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Hotlines Offer Support to Unpaid Workers

A hotline to help migrant workers in the construction industry claim unpaid wages has been inundated with calls since its main launch this month.


The Beijing Construction Committee said the service, which is manned 24 hours a day, has received up to 150 calls a day since it was first publicized on December 12.


A joint campaign was launched by departments in charge of labor and social security, construction and trade unions in the capital on November 21 to help migrant workers be paid on time, reported the Beijing News daily yesterday.


It will run until the Spring Festival, which falls on January 29.


A second hotline, the Xiaoxiao Niao or Little Birdie, is also operating in the city to help migrant workers claim back wages owned to them.


Eight months after they finished an office decoration job in Beijing, migrant worker Wang Shaoming and his seven work friends from Sichuan Province still cannot get their 6,000 yuan (US$740) of wages.


Under the mediations of two volunteer lawyers of the hotline on December 18, Wang and his compatriots have been promised they will receive their salaries soon.


"Once I get my unpaid wages, my largest dream is to return to my hometown, which I left five years ago," Wang told reporters.


With the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year, complaints about overdue wages among migrant workers have been on the rise, said Wei Wei, head of the Xiaoxiao Niao hotline.


It was launched in May 2000, and has received more than 100 complaints calls in the last week alone, with the involvement of several million yuan of default wages, according to Wei.


Statistics indicated that more than 70 percent of the salary disputes between migrant workers and property developers have been resolved through mediations over the telephone or by lawyers, said Wei, who used to be a migrant worker from central China's Henan Province.


Requirements in labor law for written contracts, proper payment and compensation are often ignored in practice, leading to a rise in disputes in the payment of salaries, experts noted.


"About 60 percent of the workers never signed contracts with employers, making it hard for them to demand the default salaries," said Wei.


There is still concern, however, that many migrant workers do not know whom to complain to if their wages are withheld.


Statistics from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security showed that, in the first half of 2005, the ministry helped 3.94 million migrant workers get their pay, totaling 3.24 billion yuan (US$400 million).


In Beijing, for example, 157,900 farmer-turned migrant workers got back their 250 million yuan (US$30.8 million) of unpaid salaries during the first 10 months, according to the city's bureau of labor and social security.


China has an estimated 120 million migrant workers, many of them active in the construction industry, and their semi-legal status means they have little protection against employers who cheat them of their wages, experts said.


(China Daily December 27, 2005)

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