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Migrant Workers' Pay Action Pledged

A Ministry of Labour and Social Security official pledged yesterday it will do its utmost to prevent the nation's migrant workers from being left penniless over the Lunar New Year.

The festival, which falls in January next year, is often not a cause for celebration for the huge number of workers who have travelled to cities to find employment.

Statistics from the All-China Federation of Trade Unions reveal that employers across the country owe 100 billion yuan (US$12 billion) to the nation's huge army of 94 million migrant workers.

"We will try our best to ensure every migrant worker is paid and hope they have a happy festival," said the ministry official, surnamed Zhang.

Families of the nation's migrant workers -- engaged mainly in the construction, catering, garment and shoe industries -- rely heavily on their earnings.

And as the cold weather starts to hit northern China, thousands of farmers-turned-workers are preparing to head for home with their hard-earned cash.

But the misery has intensified for some migrant workers, not only waiting for their wages from their tight-fisted employers, but also forced by their bosses to quit their shabby accommodation.

Li Shixiang, 58, is one of these hopeless cases, having spent several freezing nights sheltering under flyovers in Beijing.

"It's my first experience as a construction worker away from my hometown, but I did not think it would be as tough as this," groaned Li, saying his two sons and wife are hoping to achieve a better life with his earnings.

The Xinhua News Agency reported about 50 construction workers from East China's Anhui and Shandong provinces have no money to return home because their boss refused to pay them. They have been sheltering under the Sijiqing flyover of the western fourth ring road of Beijing since they were thrown out at the end of September.

They were working at two building sites in the Shuangjing area of eastern Beijing, which is owned by a Guangdong-based company. According to their agreement, the workers should be paid between 30 and 50 yuan (US$3.6-6) every day.

Li said the company owed him about 2,000 yuan (US$241).

About 400 workers employed by the company, who are sleeping under several flyovers in the capital, are still waiting for their wages.

But the group's misfortune is sadly not an isolated case.

The situation is so severe that it recently required the intervention of Premier Wen Jiabao. The premier helped Xiong Deming, a farmer in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, to recover unpaid wages of 2,240 yuan (US$270) for work on a construction site.

Experts said the government's effort should be focused on the promotion of legal awareness among migrant workers.

(China Daily November 25, 2003)

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