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Pay Workers on Time, Every Time
The Xinhua report that Premier Wen Jiabao personally intervened to help Xiong Deming, a farmer in Southwest China's Chongqing, get back her family's unpaid wages of 2,240 yuan (US$270) for work on a construction site provides some food for thought.

Wen took up Xiong's case during the premier's inspection tour of the municipality over the weekend.

This is surely a joyful and memorable story for Xiong and her family. And it attests to the fact that the new, in-touch-with-people leadership has taken hold when it comes to dealing with the underprivileged in the country.

Xiong's story is an extreme case, however.

Whether Xiong could have gotten the overdue money so soon is a big question were it not for her appeal to the premier.

We often read reports about migrant workers being trapped in financial predicaments due to unscrupulous bosses defaulting on owed wages. These other workers aren't as lucky as Xiong.

One estimate is that there are 100 million farmers-turned-workers labouring in the country's construction, catering, garment and shoe-manufacturing industries. Many of those migrant workers can't get paid on time.

Legal protection of their rights and interests remains woefully absent.

The employers that refuse to sign contracts with their workers and deliberately default on payments seem always able to escape punishment.

In the last three months of 2002, East China's Zhejiang Province alone reported more than 170 cases in which complaints about overdue wages were lodged by migrant workers.

It is the lack of effective legal punishments that causes employers to indulge in these practices.

In Xiong's case, right after Premier Wen asked about it, Xiong got her money that very evening. What about other villagers who suffered from the default, yet had no chance to talk directly to the premier?

The attention government officials have paid to this issue has helped many farmers recover the pay owed to them. However, administrative measures are not the right solution to this problem.

Migrant workers are part of the country's labour force under Chinese Labour Law. They are entitled to enjoy all the rights, privileges and protections the law provides, especially in times of maltreatment.

An act of the premier shouldn't be required to ensure farmers, or any workers for that matter, receive their pay on time.

(China Daily October 30, 2003)

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