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Gov'ts urged to clear up payments in arrears
By Fu Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-03-19 01:11

Governments at various levels have been urged to clear up back payments for farmers-turned-construction-workers by the end of 2005.

Employers have also been ordered to solve any problems connected to wages in arrears for migrant workers in the construction industry within three years.

While announcing the timetable, the Ministry of Construction Thursday said it plans to start a nationwide investigation on how much pay is owed to workers in the construction sector.

A ministry official surnamed Zhang told China Daily that the investigation may be finished by May and various governments should submit a detailed payment plan by June.

"The central government has ordered local governments to behave themselves in the clear-up campaign started since last year," said Zhang.

Initial statistics released by the Minister of Construction Wang Guangtao showed government projects account for 26.7 per cent of all the unpaid construction wages, while real estate developers account for 39.6 per cent.

The total unpaid sum has grown to 33.6 billion yuan (US$4.1 billion).

There may be various reasons for this, said Zhang, but local government leaders are responsible for payment delays in government projects.

Many local leaders have launched unnecessary construction projects, like extravagant landmark buildings, to enhance their career achievements.

Earlier this month, Premier Wen Jiabao said the government-backed projects should be first on the list and workers should be paid. Other enterprises, however, should also be urged to pay off wages in arrears as soon as possible.

In his work report at the opening of the Second Session of the 10th National People's Congress the premier said "enterprises and managers that refuse to pay back wages to migrant rural workers must be held accountable in accordance with the law."

New arrears will not be allowed anywhere, he said, adding that accounts for paying salaries must be placed under stringent supervision, and budgetary funds should be used to pay wages and salaries first.

The central government launched the campaign in August last year. It is estimated 100 billion yuan (US$12 billion) of back pay to the nation's huge army of 94 million migrant workers is at stake.

Some migrant workers say the government's iron-handed measures are already showing results.

Li Yong, a 24-year-old worker who has been in Beijing for four years, said he has been paid in full during all three months this year.

"The employers are scared now," said Li. But his boss still owes him about 5,000 yuan (US$602), a sum which equaled the annual income of two farmers in 2003.

"We migrants wanted to be brought under umbrella of legal weapons, such as payment regulation."

Experts and officials also said it is necessary to develop a legal mechanism to ensure the timely payment of migrant rural workers' wages, thereby eliminating the root cause of wage arrears.

"We hope there is a regulation with specific articles to guarantee every labour's immediate payment," said Ding Dajian, a senior official with All-China Federation of Trade Unions.

Ding said her federation has delivered a report to the State Council, urging it to revise the current ambiguous payment regulation with clear wording.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Security unveiled the regulation in 1995. It forces employers to"avoid vicious delayed payment."

"But it didn't go into details and punishment articles," said Ding.

Unionists want to add three articles in the new regulation.

First, like every other worker or employee, migrant workers should be paid monthly or weekly.

Second, payment can be delayed on the condition that trade unions agree. But the deadline should be two weeks at most.

Third, the detailed punishment articles should be written into the revised regulation if employers violate it.

"We should ensure farmers-turned-workers have an effective weapon in their hand," said Ding.

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