End begging for wages

Updated: 2011-12-08 08:04

(China Daily)

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Protecting migrant workers' legitimate rights and interests would be a good embodiment of the government's emphasis on improving people's livelihoods.

With the Spring Festival approaching, the time when Chinese people traditionally head home for family reunions, we should not forget the country's 240 million migrant workers that all too often have to suffer deferred or unpaid wages.

Millions of migrant workers leave their rural homes each year to sweat in China's bustling cities, factories and construction sites, and their labor stokes the economic boom.

However, they are routinely exploited and cheated by some unscrupulous employers.

In China, the construction industry is particularly notorious for taking advantage of migrant workers. According to a recent survey by an NGO affiliated with Peking University, nearly half of the nation's construction workers have experienced deferred wages and more than 75 percent have no contract with their employers.

The result of this exploitation is many workers are reduced to "wage begging" at the end of the year, some of which can take extreme forms, such as protests and even sometimes suicides.

That migrant workers have to resort to such extreme measures to claim the wages they have earned shows their desperation and lack of alternatives.

Although it is common at this time of year for governments at various levels to put forward interim measures to crack down on employers that intentionally withholding wages, there is no institutional solution to this long-standing problem.

On Monday, nine ministerial-level agencies jointly demanded local officials ensure that all labor disputes involving more than 10 workers must be addressed within seven days.

This has raised expectations of a potential institutional solution to wage defaults for migrant workers, as clearly interim measures are not enough.

Though we cannot arbitrarily conclude from a number of extreme cases that China's legal system is failing migrant workers, that the current administrative and legal system in charge of processing labor disputes remains inefficient is a fact.

More relevant legal provisions and judicial interpretation are needed to deter and penalize those employers that default on wages.

But aside from ensuring migrant workers are paid, and in a timely manner, more attention should be paid to improving their working environments, the prevention and treatment of occupational diseases, and establishment of collective bargaining and salary growth mechanisms.

In 2009, Time magazine named the young migrant workers of China as the collective runner-up for their "Person of the Year". Surely, they deserve this recognition and their toil deserves decent and timely payments.

(China Daily 12/08/2011 page8)