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Local Gov'ts to Get Back Pay Settled

Governments at various levels have been urged to clear up back pay owed to farmers-turned-construction-workers by the end of 2005.

Employers have also been ordered to solve any problems connected to wages in arrears for migrant workers in the construction industry within three years.

While announcing the timetable Thursday, the Ministry of Construction said it plans to start a nationwide investigation into how much pay is owed to workers in this sector.

A ministry official surnamed Zhang told China Daily that the investigation may be finished by May and that various governments should submit a detailed payment plan by June.

"The central government has ordered local governments to behave themselves in the wage recovery campaign started last year," said Zhang.

Preliminary statistics released by Minister of Construction Wang Guangtao indicate that government projects account for 26.7 percent of all the unpaid construction wages, while real estate developers are responsible for 39.6 percent.

The total unpaid sum has grown to 33.6 billion yuan (US$4.1 billion).

There may be various reasons for this, said Zhang, but local government leaders are responsible for payment delays in government projects.

Many local leaders have launched unnecessary construction projects, like extravagant landmark buildings, as they seek to enhance their career achievements.

Earlier this month, Premier Wen Jiabao said government-backed projects should be first on the list for paying wages in arrears. Other enterprises, however, should also be urged to pay back wages as quickly as possible.

In his work report at the opening of the Second Session of the 10th National People's Congress, the premier said, "Enterprises and managers that refuse to pay back wages to migrant rural workers must be held accountable in accordance with the law."

New delays will not be allowed anywhere, he said, adding that accounts for paying salaries must be placed under stringent supervision, and budget allocations should go to wages and salaries first.

The central government launched the back wage recovery campaign in August last year. Some estimates put the amount of back pay owed to the nation's huge army of 94 million migrant workers at 100 billion yuan (US$12 billion).

Some workers say the government's iron-fisted measures are already showing results.

Li Yong, a 24-year-old worker who has been in Beijing for four years, said he has been paid in full all three months this year.

"The employers are scared now," said Li. But his boss still owes him about 5,000 yuan (US$602), a sum which equaled the annual income of two farmers in 2003.

"We migrants want to be brought under the umbrella of legal weapons, such as payment regulation."

Experts and officials also said it is necessary to develop a legal mechanism to ensure the timely payment of migrant rural workers' wages, thereby eliminating the root cause of the problem.

"We hope there is a regulation with specific articles to guarantee every worker's immediate payment," said Ding Dajian, a senior official with All-China Federation of Trade Unions.

Ding said her federation has delivered a report to the State Council, urging it to clarify the wording of the currently ambiguous payment regulation.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Security released the regulation in 1995. It admonishes employers to "avoid vicious delayed payment."

"But it doesn't go into detail or contain punitive articles," said Ding.

Unionists want to add three changes in a new regulation:

First, a statement that like every other employee, migrant workers should be paid monthly or weekly;

Second, provisions for payment to be delayed on the condition that trade unions agree, but with a deadline of no more than two weeks;

Third, the inclusion of detailed punitive articles for offending employers.

"We should ensure farmers-turned-workers have an effective weapon in their hand," said Ding.

(China Daily March 19, 2004)

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