2004-01-20 10:43:27
Gov't must represent workers' interests
  Author: WANG WU

It is near the end of the year, according to the Chinese lunar calendar, but many migrant workers have still not received their wages for their year's labour.

Recurring reports of desperate migrant workers committing suicide have outraged the nation. Many people have expressed their anger at "black-hearted" bosses of construction companies, which employ most of the country's migrant workers.

But we learned just recently that construction firms are not solely to blame: Real estate developers and local governments are also guilty parties.

As China has more construction companies than is needed, competition is tight. To win contracts, builders pay for the building materials and some other costs in advance, under the expectation the developers will come good for those costs when the construction is finished.

That has become the common practice. And it explains why building companies usually hold on to workers' wages until the last minute - usually the end of the year or when the project is completed.

Some developers deliberately delay paying construction companies until they have sold the properties. Thus, they are using very little investment to make a fat profit.

Government institutions also delay paying the construction companies. Obviously it is easier for them to do so, as they have greater power than do real estate developers, especially in terms of their relationships with the construction companies.

Last week, Wang Guangtao, Minister of Construction, said government projects account for 26.7 per cent of all the unpaid construction costs, while real estate developers account for 39.6 per cent.

The total unpaid sum has accumulated to 336.6 billion yuan (US$41 billion).

A fairly large part of this huge burden has been foisted onto the shoulders of the workers in the building industry. The workers, especially the vulnerable migrants from the countryside, have to rely on the government to force their bosses to pay their salaries.

The government, however, must not ignore its role in this situation.

Although there are various excuses, leaders of the local governments are responsible for the delay of payment for the government projects.

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

As for the shortage of funds, asking the construction companies to first pay the costs is one solution.

Some projects, such as construction of expressways, are assigned by the central government. The central authorities generally allocate a sum of money to the local government for part of the costs. They also ask the local government to pay for the rest.

Some local governments regard it as a golden opportunity to divert the money from the nation's coffers for other uses, while pushing the burden onto construction contractors in the name of "completing the task assigned by the central government."

One might ask why the local governments do not pay the costs. A major reason is the local treasuries have to "provide for" too many government workers.

Once, when commenting on the increasing government payroll, Premier Wen Jiabao cited a county government in Hubei Province. The county has fewer than 130,000 residents, but the government employs 5,700 people.

Nepotism when recruiting government workers is the main reason for such corpulent payrolls.

Therefore, the final solution lies in government officials' sincerity when they execute the Party's principle of "representing the interests of the people in the broadest sense."

(Business Weekly 01/20/2004 page1)

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