“I

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work from 6 am to 8 pm ev­ery day and have hardly any hol­i­day time through­out the year,” said Li Guozhi, a 47-year-old fe­male con­struc­tion worker in Bei­jing’s Feng­tai district.

Li, from Hubei prov­ince, came to Bei­jing in 2003 with her hus­band. They both work on a con­struc­tion site, mov­ing bricks, trans­port­ing sand and paint­ing build­ings. “I have to work hard ev­ery day to sup­port my fam­ily. How­ever, the salary is very low, only 20 yuan per day, if you can imag­ine that.”

She said she doesn’t get over­time pay or other sub­si­dies and the work­ing and liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment is ter­ri­ble.

“Dust flies about at the con­struc­tion site. My three chil­dren, my hus­band and I live in a small and shabby house on-site, which is not heated in the win­ter, and the neigh­bors can be heard loudly and clearly.

“I am in poor health, but the boss doesn’t al­low me to have a va­ca­tion. Fur­ther­more, I didn’t sign any con­tracts with the em­ploy­ers, so the boss of­ten doesn’t pay me on time, and I can’t get so­cial wel­fare or med­i­cal ben­e­fits.”

Work­ing on a con­struc­tion site can be dan­ger­ous. And al­though she and her hus­band do the same work, she makes less money than he does. “It is un­fair,” she said. “This kind of phys­i­cal work is not suit­able for women, but I don’t know what else I can do,” Li sighed, adding that the site has about 18 work­ers, of which about six are fe­male.

“I’m tired ev­ery day, but I carry on so that my hus­band and I can raise our fam­ily.”

Li is one of hun­dreds of thou­sands of women work­ing in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try across the coun­try. And more and more are crop­ping up on con­struc­tion sites in re­cent years.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2013 sur­vey con­ducted by the Lit­tle Bird Mu­tu­alAid Hot­line for Mi­grant Work­ers, a grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tion based in Bei­jing, more than 10 per­cent of con­struc­tion work­ers were women.

The sur­vey of 6,451 con­struc­tion work­ers from 9 cities, in­clud­ing Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Wuhan and Zhengzhou, also found that con­struc­tion work­ers were older than work­ers in other in­dus­tries.

Thirty-two per­cent of work­ers in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try were aged 41-50, 27 per­cent were 31-40 and less than 30 per­cent were aged 30 and be­low.

Liu Xiao­hong, pres­i­dent of Bei­jing Yi Zhuan Yi Wa Cul­tural De­vel­op­ment Cen­tre, which aims to im­prove the liv­ing con­di­tions of mi­grant work­ers, con­firmed that the num­ber of fe­male con­struc­tion work­ers is in­creas­ing.

“Along with Bei­jing Nor­mal Univer­sity, we con­ducted a joint study in 2011 into the work­force of Bei­jing’s con­struc­tion in­dus­try. At that time, only 2 per­cent of con­struc­tion work­ers were fe­male, but the num­ber has been grow­ing. Now, the pro­por­tion has reached more than 10 per­cent in Bei­jing, and it’s up to 20 per­cent in Sichuan prov­ince,” said Liu.

The con­struc­tion in­dus­try is the pil­lar of the Chi­nese econ­omy. It is es­ti­mated that the num­ber of con­struc­tion work­ers will con­tinue to in­crease by at least 15 mil­lion each year.

Liu ex­plained that most fe­male con­struc­tion work­ers are mid­dleaged and have dif­fi­cul­ties find­ing other jobs.

“For ex­am­ple, the man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try prefers to hire young fe­male work­ers. So older women choose to fol­low their hus­bands and take jobs on con­struc­tion sites,” she said.

At first, the women would take odd jobs at the con­struc­tion site, such as in se­cu­rity and clean­ing. But now more and more fe­male work­ers are tak­ing the same jobs, which are of­ten high-in­ten­sity, as their male coun­ter­parts.

“In fact, the room for pro­mo­tion for these women is small, and man­age­ment po­si­tions are held by men. There is also gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion. They’re not paid the same as men even though they do the same kind of work,” Liu said.

“Male work­ers can earn 170 yuan for 10 to 11 hours of work plac­ing re­bar at a con­struc­tion site, but women can only earn 150 yuan for the same work.”

Women should also be treated dif­fer­ently when they are preg­nant or af­ter they give birth, but the re­al­ity is that they aren’t given any spe­cial treat­ment, Liu added.

“Be­sides, the rate at which fe­male work­ers sign a la­bor con­tract is very low less than 20 per­cent. In other words, many of these work­ers’ rights aren’t guar­an­teed, and their em­ploy­ers may sus­pend their salary.”

Zhao Wei, a pro­fes­sor at the School of Phi­los­o­phy and So­cial Sci­ence at Bei­jing Nor­mal Univer­sity, said women are not phys­i­cally built for the high-im­pact work on con­struc­tion sites and they should co­or­di­nate with their hus­bands to take on lower im­pact jobs, such as paint­ing.

She added that the work­ers’ liv­ing quar­ters were squalid and of­ten didn’t have a bath­room.

“Their liv­ing con­di­tions are ter­ri­ble. These work­ers can’t bathe in their dor­mi­to­ries,” Zhao said.

She told China Daily that more mid­dle-aged women are fol­low­ing their hus­bands into con­struc­tion work in re­cent years be­cause their chil­dren have gone off to col­lege or have started their ca­reers and don’t need their par­ents’ care as much.

Zhao sug­gested that fe­male con­struc­tion work­ers older than 40 years old con­sider chang­ing jobs.

“They are not qual­i­fied for the work due to their de­clin­ing phys­i­cal strength. They should go into busi­ness for them­selves or look into jobs in house­keep­ing.”

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

A fe­male con­struc­tion worker shows a towel she weaved for her hus­band.

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