From the SCMP, a reminder of the perennial plight of China’s migrant laborers.

A dozen Chinese migrant workers fighting for unpaid wages were severely beaten by scores of unidentified men just hours after they told journalists about their ordeal, state media reported Thursday.

Around 40 construction workers briefed reporters about 800,000 yuan that is owed to some 150 employees at a dilapidated construction site in the northern city of Xian on Tuesday, said Xinhua news agency.

Later that day, when 13 of them were negotiating with the manager of the company, they were surrounded by 30 men who started indiscriminately attacking them with metal pipes and bars, the report said.

The identities of the attackers were not immediately known, the manager who was at the scene fled, the report said.

The workers earlier told journalists that local government officials were unsympathetic about their unpaid wages and did virtually nothing to help.

“We don’t know how we are going to pay for our children’s school fees and for the cost of fertilizers and seeds,” a separate local press report quoted them as saying.

Most of the workers have not been paid for more than a year, the report said.

Local governments in China are notorious for ignoring the plight of workers and for refusing to enforce labour laws, siding with employers to encourage more investment in their area.

There have been increasingly frequent incidents of violent revenge on workers and farmers complaining about labour and land rights issues.

Labor relations with Chinese characteristics. They won’t cough up the money to pay the men they hired to do all the work, but I’m sure they pay their goons. How do they go to bed at night?.

The Discussion: 10 Comments

Yes, but things are changing. At first de jure, let’s see if it also changes de facto:

“BEIJING, July 27 (Xinhuanet) — A ruling of the Beijing Higher People’s Court Monday says migrant workers can file cases for free against employers to get back their unpaid wages.

They no longer need to prove their financial difficulty to get the aid, according to the new ruling that has taken effect immediately in all Beijing courts.

Courts used to demand that workers provide a document from their employers saying they could not afford legal costs, China Daily reported Wednesday, quoting Li Qingjun, a lawyer who handles dozens of migrant workers’ salary disputes a year, as saying.

With the new ruling, the workers do not have to pay to freeze the employer’s assets.”


August 4, 2005 @ 12:13 pm | Comment

I remember a couple of years ago Hu/Wen making a big fuss and promising to crack down on the growing problem of unpaid migrant workers. Since then the problem appears to be getting worse than ever.

Stephen Frost would, no doubt, be able to advise further on this subject.

I understand that the there is no ‘magic wand’ available to the central government that would *poof* get rid of the problem, but is this situation caused by a lack of political will? An inability of the central government to adequately address the issue or simply that this particular problem is spiralling out of control and impossible to solve?

August 4, 2005 @ 12:16 pm | Comment

Thanks for that Shulan. So then, these migrant workers don’t have anything to worry about! Very reassuring.

The Chinese constitution also guarantees free speech and lots of other goodies. Problem is, without an independent judiciary to enforce them these laws can be all but meaningless. I hope that’s not true in this instance. But there are all kinds of protections in the law already, and most seem largely ignored.

August 4, 2005 @ 12:19 pm | Comment


Are these things worse or are they just better reported now?

Ahh, the PRC, the workers’ paradise. Funny how it’s much more a capitalist’s paradise nowadays than it ever was for workers.

August 4, 2005 @ 3:10 pm | Comment

Ckrisz writes:

“Are these things worse or are they just better reported now?”

That’s the crucial question I suppose. The fuzzy answer would probably be ‘a bit of both’ but I’d cite the recent tightening of press freedom and control of the media as evidence that the problem of unpaid migrant wages is likely getting worse rather than simply being reported more.

Then again, recent tightening of credit/bank loans (albeit small) would contradict this. Particularly after the frenzied lending of 2003.

Still, fixed-asset investment remains at a incredible 53% this year so there’s plenty of construction projects on the go these days.

No, I think the problem’s getting worse.

August 4, 2005 @ 3:51 pm | Comment


You stole the words right out from under my fingers. After I read Shulan’s quote the promises of the Chinese constitution immediately came to mind.

Hey, maybe China needs another Cultural Revolution just for officals. Send their asses out to the labor fields to work besided the farmers and the other laborers. Obviously they have forgotten what these people go through.

It’s no wonder so many of them miss the “good ol days”.

August 4, 2005 @ 6:32 pm | Comment

As is often remarked, the problem in China is not a lack of laws and regulations, rather it is a lack of willingness to enforce them in a consistent and even-handed manner, even if that means going against powerful vested interests in the CPC or business world.

August 4, 2005 @ 8:16 pm | Comment

Richard, Gordon:
Yes I know that the constitution promises a lot but in reality neglects these promises.
Despite of some fundamental rights, like i.e. the right to freely asemble, wich I think won’t be implemented very soon, I have the impression that particlularly in the sector of of workers rights something is changing, very slowyly though but changing. There are a lot of obstacles and drawbacks for anyone to file a lawsuite but more and more do and the new interpretation of the law by the court makes this even easier. So I’m not saying, since yesterday rule of law was established in China but in this particular case I am slightly optimistic that things will becomer better (call it irrational if you want, sometimes I surprise myselft with this optimism)

August 5, 2005 @ 8:21 am | Comment

“That’s the crucial question I suppose. The fuzzy answer would probably be ‘a bit of both’ but I’d cite the recent tightening of press freedom and control of the media as evidence that the problem of unpaid migrant wages is likely getting worse rather than simply being reported more.”

I agree that CCP control over the media is being tightened. However, this just means that the CCP can now aim the media more to its liking. By focusing more on abusive bosses and local officials, CCP higher-ups can swoop in and “clean up” the situation with some executions and jailings. I think the CCP upper leadership is both sophisticated enough to realize that this will be a more effective safety valve for frustrated urban laborers than out-and-out repression, and actually cares enough to try and clean up the situation to an extent.

August 5, 2005 @ 3:14 pm | Comment

Obviously the central authorities care deeply about the local corruption and want to clean it up — if they don’t, they’ll go down with the system. But I don;t see how tightening control over the media helps them achieve this goal. The more controlled the media, the more local corruption thrives (if there’s no news about it, outrage will be limited to that geography).

August 5, 2005 @ 3:20 pm | Comment

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