Many migrant workers continue to find themselves without back payments of wages due to their insufficient knowledge of the law and because of poor excuses made by employers.
As a result, numerous workers have been placed in a financial predicament once again highlighting the growing concern of how best to cover the interests and rights of a marginalized group in urban China.
Meanwhile, many employers, usually small-sized workshops and individually invested companies, are hit hard by the economic gloom, making it even more difficult for them to set aside cash for back payments of wages, experts said.
Guan Huai, a chief legal consultant on migrant worker's rights in China, put the total dues for migrant employees at a whopping 36.69 billion yuan (US$4.44 billion) in 2000.
Guan was quoted in a recent edition of Southern Weekend, a Guangzhou-based weekly, saying that the figure for 2001 could be even higher.
The lack of back payments have dashed the hopes of workers who have strived hard to earn money in cities to go home with money for their families.
Chen Guo was one of them. A man in his 30s, Chen was contracted to a Beijing-based construction company to work as a labourer on an apartment project in northeast Beijing last September.
Chen, a farmer-turned urban worker from China's Hubei Province, was injured with six other fellow workers when they went to their boss and demand payment of promised wages over the weekend.
All seven are in hospital and are stable, according to doctors in Chaoyang Hospital in downtown Beijing.
"My wife and two kids are still expecting money for their daily necessities and education fees, which are rising," said Chen in an interview Tuesday.
"What can I say to them now? How can I face my children when they are still eager to see my money gifts for the festival?"
Cases like Chen are making news headlines on a regular basis these days.
South China's booming city of Shenzhen reported that a distressed migrant worker kidnapped a girl to demonstrate his anger over due payments and another tried to jump from a building.
"All these cases have highlighted that migrant workers' interests are far from being covered by a comprehensive welfare and legal system in urban regions," said a sociology expert in Shanghai.
The professor, who asked not to be named, said migrant workers seeking fortune in cities do not enjoy health care and insurance benefits as urbanites do. And a lack of legal awareness and financial squeeze makes it difficult for them to turn to the law for help.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Security was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Chen, the migrant construction worker said that, he had no idea of the significance of a formal contract and he did not know how to go about receiving legal aid.
Since his adventure in Beijing in 1997, Chen has since only signed up for different projects, under oral contracts. He was lucky though, as in the past, the boss always delivered the money. But this year, he was struck hard.
"I hope the government can do something. The money is from my work all year," said Chen.
The municipal government has put the issue on its agenda.
(China Daily February 6, 2002)