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Workers Get Help in Battle for Back Pay

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With the Spring Festival holidays approaching, the capital is launching a special campaign to protect migrant workers' rights and benefits.

The drive, which was launched on Dec 1, has so far helped 634 laborers collect salaries totaling 2.69 million yuan from 18 employers, according to Beijing's bureau of human resources and social security. The project will run until Jan 20.

Labor officials investigated 3,880 complaints from migrant workers about wage arrears between January and November 2010, a decrease of 14.9 percent year-on-year. In the process, they helped 35,311 people retrieve a combined 154 million yuan.

Administrative punishments were issued to 19 companies, according to a bureau press release.

"Key targets (of the campaign) are labor-intensive, small and medium-sized enterprises, such as construction companies, manufacturers and food service suppliers," said Wu Antai, director of labor inspection.

"The checkup is to see whether employers have signed contracts with migrant workers, whether the migrant workers received legal payment and overtime pay and whether the pay is above the minimum standard. We're also looking for employers that have run away with salaries in arrears," added Wu.

Some migrant workers may not be lucky enough to get their salaries before they rejoin their family for the annual Lunar New Year holidays, however.

"My boss has already told us half the salary for December will not be handed out before the new year," said a 20-something worker surnamed Wang at Tianhesheng restaurant, opposite the University of International Business and Economics in Chaoyang district.

Rural workers generally have little idea of how to legally chase back-pay from rule-breaking bosses.

"My friends' salaries were in arrears," said Zeng Zeng, 24, at Grace Beauty Shop in Chaoyang district. "Some kept silent and lost several thousand yuan, some called the emergency 110 hotline, some turned to violence and surrounded the boss with friends to force them to hand over the cash."

The final option, however, can be equally dangerous for migrant workers.

Lu Xiaowu, a 47-year-old migrant laborer, was stabbed to death on Monday when he accompanied his relative to demand a salary of about 5,000 yuan that was owned to him.

Police detained a man suspected of stabbing Lu on Tuesday.

"The suspect, surnamed Chen, was caught on Tuesday afternoon and officers from the (public security) bureau, as well as its Fengtai branch, have stepped in to investigate," said Zi Xiangdong, a spokesman for Beijing public security bureau.

Migrant workers are advised to consult with the Beijing Arbitration Commission for Labor Disputes or the city's bureau of human resources if their salary is in arrears.

As part of a new long-term pilot project aimed at preventing migrant workers from losing their hard-earned money, human resources officials have also joined hands with the Beijing Federation of Trade Unions and the municipal public security bureau to strengthen labor supervision "and finally fulfill the target of no cases of salary arrears", said Wu.

When employers are reported for not paying workers on time, the human resources bureau will issue strict orders for the problem to be addressed with a deadline.

Those who do not comply will face fines, while employers in serious breaches of the rules will be criticized through the media and placed on a blacklist with the Beijing enterprise credit system.

(China Daily December 23, 2010)

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