Mi­grant work­ers de­serve bet­ter pay pro­tec­tion

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

The end of a year is usu­ally a time to en­sure mi­grant work­ers are paid their due wages. Given that many en­ter­prises, es­pe­cially small and medium-sized ones, are suf­fer­ing be­cause of the eco­nomic slow­down, it is likely mi­grant work­ers will face dif­fi­cul­ties get­ting their wages be­fore they re­turn home for the an­nual Spring Fes­ti­val hol­i­day, which starts early next month.

The data re­leased by a trade union in De­cem­ber in­di­cate that cases of wage cuts or de­faults in­volv­ing mi­grant work­ers in­creased by 34 per­cent year-on-year in the first three quar­ters of 2015. Also, un­like the past, wage de­faults are no longer lim­ited to the con­struc­tion in­dus­try; they have spread to other la­bor-in­ten­sive man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tors. This un­for­tu­nate trend could deepen be­cause of the eco­nomic woes many do­mes­tic en­ter­prises are suf­fer­ing from.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port from busi­ness news web­site Yi­cai.com, only 30 per­cent of do­mes­tic man­u­fac­tur­ing en­ter­prises can pay wages to employees on time and many of them have to lay off work­ers be­cause of their fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties. As a group that is widely be­lieved to be in a dis­ad­van­ta­geous po­si­tion for lack­ing the bar­gain­ing power when it comes to em­ploy­ers, mi­grant work­ers are usu­ally the worst vic­tims of wage de­faults.

ANa­tional Bureau of Sta­tis­tics re­port in April 2014 said there were 274 mil­lion mi­grant work­ers in China, whose av­er­age monthly in­come was 2,864 yuan ($437), with 0.8 per­cent, or 2.19 mil­lion, of them be­ing de­nied pay­ment on time. The av­er­age per per­son wage de­fault was 9,511 yuan. The lack of la­bor con­tracts be­tween many mi­grant work­ers and their em­ploy­ers usu­ally mean un­paid work­ers have no ef­fec­tive chan­nels to re­solve their pay dis­putes.

In its work re­port to the coun­try’s top leg­is­la­ture in 2004, the cen­tral gov­ern­ment vowed to ba­si­cally solve the wage de­fault prob­lem for mi­grant work­ers within three years. But the prob­lem per­sists even to­day, al­though a se­ries of mea­sures have been taken by gov­ern­ments at var­i­ous lev­els. The cash de­posit sys­tem to be set up in some re­gions, which could be used to pay mi­grant work­ers be­ing de­nied wages by their em­ploy­ers, has largely be­come in­ef­fec­tive be­cause it has not been strictly im­ple­mented.

In the face of be­ing de­nied wages, many mi­grant work­ers still re­sort to ex­treme means such as vi­o­lent con­fronta­tion with their em­ploy­ers, or com­mit­ting sui­cide or threat­en­ing to do so. In De­cem­ber, nine mi­grant work­ers in An­hui prov­ince climbed to the top of a highrise build­ing and threat­ened to jump down af­ter they were not paid their wages. They were de­tained for a few days by po­lice on the charge of “re­fusal” to come down from the build­ing and threat­en­ing to com­mit sui­cide. That was only one of the many “sui­cide threats” mi­grant work­ers have used in re­cent years to get their wages. To help her mi­grant worker fa­ther get his years of over­due wages from his em­ployer, a 14-year-old girl from Sichuan prov­ince jumped to her death from a build­ing in North China’s He­bei prov­ince in Jan­uary 2015.

Wage de­fault cases are usu­ally re­solved by gov­ern­ment de­part­ments or of­fi­cials to ad­dress pub­lic griev­ances af­ter they be­come head­line news, but the coun­try is yet to set up a pre­ven­tive mech­a­nism or is­sue a set of ef­fec­tive reg­u­la­tions to pre­vent such cases. The ex­treme means some mi­grant work­ers use when their wages are de­nied, which are not rare, should prompt au­thor­i­ties to make ef­forts at the na­tional level in or­der to pro­vide re­lief to mi­grant work­ers by help­ing them get their hard-won wages on time.

Lo­cal gov­ern­ments have to put mi­grant work­ers’ in­ter­ests first and come up with con­crete and work­able mea­sures, for ex­am­ple, making a black­list of en­ter­prises that in­ten­tion­ally de­fault on mi­grant work­ers’ wages and deny­ing the en­ter­prises credit to stop them from de­fault­ing on wages. But in the ab­sence of such sys­tem­atic guar­an­tees, la­bor de­part­ments, trade unions and pub­lic wel­fare or­gans should be ready to in­ter­vene to help the hard­work­ing but usu­ally un­der­paid mi­grant work­ers get their due wages be­fore Spring Fes­ti­val.

The au­thor is a se­nior writer with China Daily.

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