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Migrant worker burns self in pay dispute
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A MIGRANT worker is in critical condition in hospital after setting fire to himself at his boss’ office in Longgang District after the boss had refused to pay him wages, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported yesterday.

Yang Zengchao, a 23-year-old migrant worker from Southwest China’s Yunnan Province, poured a bottle of flammable liquid over himself and ignited it after his boss, a handbag factory owner in Longgang’s Pinghu Subdistrict, refused to pay his and his wife’s wages, about 1,100 yuan (US$149) in total.

Doctors said Yang received life-threatening burns to more than 90 percent of his body.

Even if he was to survive, it would take months and cost more than 1 million yuan in medical expenses, said Zhang Jialong, a doctor at Shenzhen Sanxia Hospital.

Liu Xiaoli, Yang’s de facto wife, told the newspaper the entire incident had been like a nightmare.

Liu and Yang have not registered for marriage but they already have a 1-year-old son.

“We left our child in Yunnan and came together to work in the handbag factory Nov. 8. A few days ago, we were told that both my son and mother-in-law were ill and we decided to quit the job to go back home,” Liu said. The couple calculated that their wages should have been about 1,100 yuan in total.

“According to my experience, the boss would deduct, at most, 20 percent of the wages if we quit ahead of time,” Liu said. But the boss had refused to give them any money.

Liu said they had only about 30 yuan, not even enough to buy tickets to return home.

“We came to the factory at about 10 a.m. Sunday. Yang found a bottle of flammable liquid and poured it over himself. By that time, my phone rang and I went out to answer the phone call. I only saw my husband follow the boss into his office,” Liu said.

“Two minutes later, I was scared because I saw a burning person rushing out of the office to the bathroom.”

Yang was taken to hospital and admitted to an intensive care unit.

Liu said she had gone to the Pinghu labor department asking for help but was told she was not in a position to represent Yang as they were not legal spouses. Liu said they had decided to register by the end of this year as it would take time and money to get all the paper work done. Liu is from Sichuan Province.

The newspaper tried to reach the factory boss but was turned down.

The Pinghu labor department said the couple and the factory had not signed any formal contract.

One of Yang’s colleagues said Yang was weird sometimes. He might have been in a kind of depression occasionally, the colleague said.

The newspaper said Sanxia Hospital had not received any payment from the couple so far. The hospital also provided free accommodation for Liu.

But Liu did not know what would happen next.

Liu, who is only 21, said the factory should be partly responsible for Yang’s injuries. “I don’t know why they did not stop him from igniting the liquid,” she said.

“I don’t know what to do next, my only hope is that my son’s father can survive,” the distraught woman said.

(Shenzhen Daily, November 28, 2007)

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