All-China Federation of Trade Unions, China's semi-official umbrella for workers, urges legislators to revise laws to guarantee that Chinese workers are paid for their work, and that employers who do not pay face harsher penalties.
The push comes as a result of ongoing problems with employers who renege on paying those who worked for them, and employers who vanish without a trace, leaving workers unpaid. The problem is especially bad for migrant workers.
Li Shouzhen, spokesman of the federation, said as the year-end is approaching, cases of default on payments may rise. The federation will join hands with the government and carry out a special inspection to check payment of the migrant workers from Nov 15 to Feb 5, 2010.
Moreover, the federation is working with related authorities to set up and improve the mechanism to ensure wage payment, he said.
"The federation is suggesting adding provisions to the Criminal Law to punish the activities of malicious back pay or absconding without paying wages," Xinhua quoted Li as saying.
Chinese Labor Law prohibits defaulting of wages without reason.
However, employers who are caught not paying wages on time are required to pay the wages, plus a "compensation fee" to the workers.
However, with no penalties such as being fined by the government or jailed, the law lacks a strong deterrent, experts say.
The federation's proposal came after an employee was threatened when she asked for her payment.
Wang Hongli, a sales manager with a private company in Hangzhou, capital of East China's Zhejiang province, and her husband were beaten and stabbed when they went to the company to ask for 26,000 yuan ($3,800) in an unpaid bonus on Oct 31.
Wang recorded the confrontation as evidence. Her boss threatened to rape her and cut off her hand and leg in the recording.
The event gained nationwide attention, and once again sounded the alarm for wage protection.
The lack of penalties in the law is why employees who demand their wages can easily run into problems, said Chen Bulei, a researcher of labor issues at Beijing-based Renmin University of China.
"Current law lacks constraining force. It depends on the employers' law-abiding awareness or morality to pay the wages on time," he said.
The key point is to enact a clear definition of "malicious back pay," said Yang Tuan, vice-director of the social policy research center under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"Some employers like Wang's boss deliberately default on wages. They recklessly violate the workers' interests and have no respect for the law. They should be punished by law," she said.
Other employers cannot pay the wages due to temporary poor business, especially amid the global economic recession. In those cases, the government should shoulder the responsibility to help pay part of the wages, Yang said.
"Governments' allowance could alleviate the companies' burden, give them hope for recovery, and can also keep jobs for the workers," she said.