China / Society

Migrant workers struggling to be paid ahead of Spring Festival

( ) Updated: 2015-01-22 09:47

Migrant workers struggling to be paid ahead of Spring Festival
Wang Qian, daughter of Zhou Xiuyun, a 47-year-old female worker who was beaten to death, cries while looking at a photo of her mother. Zhou was one of the 10 migrant workers who were trying to enter a construction site in Taiyuan on Dec 13 to demand their salaries and argued with guards. [Photo/Xinhua]

Chinese Labor authorities have launched an overhaul of annual wage payments to ensure the millions of migrant workers in this country are properly paid before they return home for Chinese New Year's.

"Right now we can only afford our meals, and there are no more wages."

"We are from Guizhou, and all our family members are waiting here. Right now, there is no electricity or water. Every night, our kids are crying and screaming until midnight."

These are migrant workers from different construction teams in an abandoned construction site in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

A year ago, the project they were working on to build a vocational school was abruptly suspended, leaving them unpaid.

This is just one of many construction sites across China where migrant workers are still waiting to be paid-in-full before the Spring Festival, which this year falls on Feb 19.

The Lunar New Year is the most important festival on the Chinese calendar, and making it home for the holiday is of utmost importance for almost everyone.

As such, a number of incidents have occurred in recent weeks as people scramble to try to get paid so they can go home.

In one case, a 14-year girl committed suicide in a construction site in Hebei after failing to secure her step-father's wages for him.

A 47-year old migrant worker was killed in a dispute at a construction site in neighboring Henan when she and a group of workers tried to storm the construction site offices to get their back-pay.

A picture of her hair being stood-on by a local security officer created a firestorm of controversy on the internet.

As such, a new report put together by several Chinese universities is suggesting the prepaid funding system for construction projects and the sub-contracting system are the main reason workers aren't paid.

Jiang Junlu is the vice chair of the Chinese Sociological Association.

"If the construction industry cannot tackle the problems of prepaid funding, it means workers are conducting construction work at the expenses of their own payment. Even though our laws make it a crime for contractors who fail to pay their workers, the current labor laws aren't enough to solve the fundamental problem that has existed for years."

Construction is organized via a complex system of sub-contracting in China, involving "just-in-time" crews.

Lu Huilin is an associate professor with the sociology department at Peking University.

"Many construction workers in China are managed by their sub-contractors at the construction sites, rather than an employer in a legal sense. Although the recruitment system has been legally banned, it still exists in the construction industry."

As a response, experts are now suggesting the government set up a special body to compensate unpaid workers before asking for money from bankrupt contractors.

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