Special laws are needed to help migrant workers collect overdue salaries, top political advisers said.
Hong Fuzeng, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said the laws are necessary to better protect migrant workers' rights and interests.
The laws on labor contract, social security, labor dispute settlement and employment facilitation have received particular interest during the ongoing plenary session of the CPPCC.
The number of employed migrant workers in Chinese cities and towns jumped from 190 million in 1995 to more than 200 million in 2005, statistics from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security show.
These farmers-turned-laborers in urban cities and towns usually encounter some problems regarding the protection of their working rights and interests because they lack relevant knowledge.
One major headache for migrant workers is the delay of payment by employers.
A National People's Congress (NPC) questionnaire in 2,150 businesses in 40 cities last year found that about 8 per cent of the employees said their salaries had been withheld for an average of three months in 2004. The average amount delayed was 2,184 yuan (US$273) per person.
"Although workers are less aware of how to protect themselves, insufficient laws related to protection of migrant workers' rights and interests are also to blame for delaying salary payment by employers," Hong said.
As a result, Hong pointed out that the need for laws to help guarantee migrant workers' rights and interests has become increasingly urgent.
Also, a labor contract law is a must for employees to seek judicial help when their working units delay payment, Hong said.
A recent nationwide survey indicated that fewer than 20 per cent of employers in small and medium-sized private businesses were found to have signed labor contracts with their workers.
Meanwhile, a member of the NPC appealed for criminal penalties to be included in the Criminal Law for employers who delay salary payments or run away.
"The issue of delaying salary payment to migrant workers cannot be effectively prevented under the current civil laws, labor laws or other administrative managements, so why don't we introduce criminal penalties to settle it?" asked Fang Chaogui, director of the Guangdong Provincial Bureau of Labor and Social Security.
Fang said that delaying salary payment harms not only workers' living conditions, but also society.
"Since social incidents triggered by overdue salaries, especially by employers who hide, are on the rise and seriously undermine social stability," Fang said, "it is a must to include criminal penalties into the Criminal Law for employers who delay workers money."
(China Daily March 9, 2006)