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Better Ways to Protect Migrant Workers

It is time for farmers working in cities to settle with their employers.


In Guangzhou, of South China's Guangdong Province, 25 farmers-turned workers were attacked last Tuesday when they asked for their pay.


Reports are common about migrant workers who are not paid and have to return home penniless. Attacks on workers, however, are much less common.


Urgent and effective measures are needed to safeguard the rights of workers.


But how?


Past experience shows we tend to tackle the problem by exerting administrative pressure.


It is a widely-accepted format that officials from the top urge lower-level officials and departments to take immediate steps to ensure farmers get their pay.


Often, it works.


Premier Wen Jiabao has repeatedly made headlines by issuing such orders. In the current Guangzhou case, he said attention must still be paid to solve the problem of defaulted payment to migrant workers.


We are glad we have a premier who cares for the interests of this disadvantaged social group. Wen's orders were seriously implemented in previous cases.


This time, the Guangzhou workers will predictably see a satisfactory result.


But we should not - and cannot - count on Premier Wen to solve all the problems.


According to the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Bureau of Statistics, China has 100 million migrant workers.


Defaulted payments could amount to 100 billion yuan (US$12 billion), says the All-China Federation of Trade Unions.


Wen cannot get involved in every case.


The legal, especially judicial, system, must play a bigger role. It must be more effective.


Eight years ago, for example, in Guangdong's Shaoguan, construction contractors defaulted on more than 10 million yuan (US$1.2 million) payments to more than 600 migrant workers in a local road project. Local courts received more than 50 appeals.


By 2003, however, those workers had yet to see a single yuan.


Since last year, the country, led by the central government, has launched nationwide campaigns to settle the issue.


In the long run, however, the force of law must be brought to bear on the thorny issue.


It is said the construction law will be amended to impose harsher punishment on employers that default on payments.


We look forward to those amendments and hope they are done soon to better safeguard the interests of the workers.


(China Daily November 13, 2004)


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