China / Society

Boss jailed for a year for refusing to pay workers

By AN BAIJIE in Zhumadian, Henan (China Daily) Updated: 2012-12-20 01:00

A boss who absconded with the wages of 15 migrant workers he had employed has been sentenced to a year in prison in Henan province.

The Yicheng District People's Court heard on Wednesday that despite receiving 320,000 yuan ($51,340) in payment for a five-month construction project, contractor Liu Quande, 43, from Runan county in Zhumadian, refused to pay the workers around 150,000 yuan in wages.

After three months, the workers sought the help of the local government's working supervision division in October 2011, which summoned Liu in January and ordered him to pay them within a week.

Instead, Liu left town, the prosecutor said. He was arrested at a rented house in the downtown of Zhumadian in June.

The prosecutor said Liu had maliciously refused to pay the workers. Liu claimed that his family had already paid the workers about 50,000 yuan before he was caught, but that he now regretted his actions.

Lai Di, 62, one of the workers, said he was owed 1,200 yuan.

"I couldn't get in touch with him to get my pay last year, because he changed his cellphone number and left town," Lai said.

"I was afraid my money was lost forever."

Zhang Liyong, head of Henan High People's Court, said: "Most of the migrant workers led simple, poor lives, and if they were not paid, their children might have had to drop out of school".

According to a law revised in May 2011, non-payment of workers is a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.

"Before the law was revised, refusing to pay workers was deemed a violation of contract law, and as such was not a crime," Zhang said.

"Making it a criminal offense is expected to help reduce such incidents."

Yang Zhiming, vice-minister of human resources and social security, said in November that the government had helped 1.29 million migrant workers recover 5.92 billion yuan in unpaid wages.

Liu Defa, a law professor at Zhengzhou University, said that refusing to pay migrant workers should be severely punished because it can lead to social unrest.

"To get their money, some helpless migrant workers have resorted to extreme measures, such as threatening to jump from high buildings or bridges, which can stir public anger," he said.

Zhang Leilong and Ma Shouguo in Zhengzhou contributed to this story.

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