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Wage Wrangle Scrutinized
Local governments in China have launched a special inspection of the country's building, services, catering and manufacturing industries in a bid to ensure that millions of migrant workers get their overdue wages before they go home to celebrate the lunar New Year.

The Beijing municipal construction committee has ordered all construction companies in the city to pay migrant workers their 2003 defaulted salaries before Spring Festival, or the traditional Chinese New Year, which falls on January 22.

"The wages must be paid 100 percent by January 15, otherwise I, as representative of all 850,000 migrant workers in Beijing, will not give up fighting," said Liu Yongfu, director of the construction committee.

In Sichuan Province, more than 300 telephone calls from migrant workers complaining about their employers having defaulted payments have been answered since a hotline was opened on December 1, according to the provincial Labor and Social Security Bureau.

The Henan provincial government has announced its step-by-step plan, stating that no more new debts should be created from January 1 next year, while 50 percent of former debts should be paid by the end of next year. It said all debts must be cleared out by 2006.

Migrant workers from all over the country are often used in construction projects, with the promise of payment by the end of the year. But it has been a common practice for the promises to go unfulfilled or to only be partially honored.

In Beijing, for example, about 3 billion yuan for such cases is still unpaid, as a result of delayed payment to the construction contractors, accounting for 20 percent of the total payment.

Eleven enterprises which failed to pay for construction projects to the contractors were exposed to the public and punished, the municipal construction committee announced on Friday.

These enterprises will not be granted licenses for new projects, and their negative records will be exposed to the banks.

In Beijing, 1.26 billion yuan (US$153 million) has been transferred directly to those long-waiting hands over the weekend, according to local source.

"I finally retrieved my payment, which was four months in arrears," said Tian Shirong in a trembling voice while holding his defaulted payment - 2,000 yuan (US$241).

"I can securely spend my new year at home now," said Tian, 29, who hails from Central China's Hubei Province and had been working for a construction company in Beijing's Xuanwu District.

According to statistics from the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, China has 94 million migrant rural laborers, whose employers are in arrears up to 100 billion yuan (US$12 billion).

Over 70 percent of payment default comes from construction enterprises, and the next biggest defaulter is catering companies.

(China Daily December 15, 2003)

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