The government is sparing no efforts to recover some 100 billion yuan of payment for millions of migrant workers, many of whom have waited several months for what they deserve from their toil in cities so they can take some money back their rural homes for the coming new year.
Li Shixiang, a 58-year-old farmer from Linyi City of east China's Shandong Province, has worked at a Beijing building site for two months without a penny of payment. He and many fellow workers have had to sleep in the open air on winter nights.
"The labor service company owes me 3,000 yuan. My wife and two sons are still counting on it for next year's living and school expenses," Li said.
According to statistics from the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, China has 94 million migrant rural laborers, whose employers are in arrears up to 100 billion yuan (US$12.1 billion). Over 70 percent of payment default comes from construction enterprises, and the next biggest defaulter is catering companies.
The Chinese capital Beijing, boasting many famous modern buildings, has detected severe payment default in the construction industry. Fan Kuiyuan, an official with the Beijing Municipal Construction Committee, said that by the end of 2002, Beijing reported a total of 3,407 construction projects with 3 billion yuan owed in payment.
Once a drafter of China's Labor Law, Prof. Li Jianfei from the People's University of China considers any form of payment default as against the law.
The Labor Law stipulates that workers should be paid at least monthly, and employers will be fined one quarter of the salaries for delayed payment. Labor supervision departments can also order additional fines one to five times of the original payment.
Some project contractors are complaining their money is delayed by the project developers, but Li said it shouldn't be an excuse for them to default on the payment of workers.
"Laborers are entitled to just compensation for their honest work, which is the most direct and important reflection of their rights," Li said.
The issue has aroused extensive concern from high-ranking officials, governments at various levels and the entire society. Premier Wen Jiabao pledged in October to help migrant workers retrieve their defaulted payment during his inspection of the rural areas of southwest China's Chongqing Municipality.
Beijing had retrieved 7 billion yuan (US$846 million) of arrears in construction projects by October and hopes to recover another 3 billion yuan (US$363 million) by the end of this year, which can be used partially to make up defaulted payment for laborers.
Officials with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security said they would further strengthen the check over related law enforcement and severely punish enterprises accused of delaying payment.
The ministry is also planning a national campaign to oversee the payment, work environment and social security conditions of the migrant workers.
Earlier this year, the General Office of the State Council circulated a notice to promote better employment management and rights protection for migrant rural laborers.
Meanwhile, lawyers urge migrant workers to have a better awareness of labor rights.
"Many of them haven't signed contracts with employers, which encourages offenders to delay or embezzle payments unscrupulously," said Li Jianfei.
Li suggested they report any payment default immediately to related supervision departments and join trade unions for stronger group efforts.
(Xinhua News Agency November 25, 2003)