07/21/2006, 00.00
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Migrant worker sets himself ablaze in Tiananmen Square

He had not been paid for months. More than 90% of migrant workers do not receive regular wages. Many try to commit suicide.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – A migrant worker from Jiangsu set himself on fire in Tiananmen Square yesterday to protest against the government and the managers of the firm employing him, who were not paying his salary.

Yesterday morning, Wang Congan, 53 years, from Jiangsu, doused himself in gasoline and transformed himself into a human torch when Tiananmen Square, in the heart of the capital, was full of tourists. In an official statement, police said Wang's action was tied to "a financial dispute with a construction company in Yuanan county, Hubei."

Police said guards in the square swiftly put out the flames on Wang's body and took him to hospital. Although he suffered serious burns, Wang is out of danger.

The media agency Xinhua said the migrant worker had come to Beijing to seek help from the state authorities to get his wages.

This is not the first such gesture of protest to take place in Beijing. In recent years, at least a dozen people have set themselves on fire in the square: some were workers on construction sites in the capital, desperate because they had not been paid for years; others were elderly couples made homeless when the government seized their land; others were people tired of presenting petitions for years without ever receiving a reply.

The plight of unpaid workers is one of China's worst scourges today. According to a study by the Renmin University of Beijing, more than 90% of migrant workers in China (at least 150 million) do not have a contract and are not paid regularly.  Although government directives stipulate workers should be paid every month, many employers falsify receipts and do not disburse any wages, on the pretext of settling accounts every six months. Once they have the fake receipts in hand, they refuse to pay and their employees have no way of seeking and getting justice. Many workers have resorted to violence and attacked employers who were not paying them. Many others decided to draw attention to their plight by killing themselves.

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