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BEIJING - A judicial interpretation that went into effect on Wednesday aims to defend migrant workers by preventing their employers from defaulting on their wages.
A judicial interpretation issued by the Supreme People's Court (SPC), China's top court, clearly defines specific applicable situations in which employers who default on wages can be sentenced to prison for up to seven years.
A 2011 amendment to the Criminal Law classifies failure to pay laborers properly as a crime, specifying a prison sentence of three to seven years for employers whose failure to pay their employees results in "serious consequences."
However, the "serious consequences" are not specified in the law.
Specifically, employers who refuse to pay employees by threatening to use or actually using violence may face a seven-year prison sentence, according to the interpretation.
Employers whose failure to pay wages severely affects the quality of life of their employees or results in the employees or their relatives having to discontinue important medical treatment or schooling may also be punished, according to the interpretation.
From May 2011 to December 2012, courts at all levels punished 120 employers in 134 lawsuits related to wage defaults, the SPC said.
Even employers whose actions do not result in the aforementioned "severe consequences" may be punished with a three-year prison or detention sentence for failing to properly give employees their wages.
The payments mentioned in the interpretation refer not only to employee wages, but also to bonuses and overtime pay.
However, employers can have their penalties relieved or be exempted from punishment entirely if they render payments to their employees before being prosecuted, the interpretation said.
The interpretation is hoped to discourage wage defaults, especially those that impact migrant workers.
Migrant workers are often victimized by such defaults, particularly around the end of the Chinese Lunar New Year, when most migrants return to their hometowns to celebrate the Spring Festival holiday.
On Monday, a man in south China's Guangzhou province committed a suicide bombing in a residential community while asking for back pay from his employers.
The man died and seven others were injured in the explosion, local police said.