A total of 1,340 people, 367 of whom are mentally handicapped, have been rescued from forced labor since the notorious brick kiln forced labor scandal came to light in June, a joint investigation group reported on Monday afternoon.
During the crackdown on illegal kilns, mines and workshops, 277,000 work units with 12.67 million workers were inspected, said Sun Baoshu, Vice Minister of Labor and Social Security and head of the investigation group, which represents the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, the Ministry of Public Security and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions.
Police found that 67,000, or 24.2 percent of the kilns, mines and workshops inspected nationwide were operating without licenses.
They registered 185,000 cases during the inspection, more than half of which concerned employing workers without contracts and, in 37 percent of the cases, the owner failed to provide workers with social security insurance.
One hundred and forty seven people were arrested and 98,000 work units that used uncontracted workers were ordered to sign the contracts with 1.5 million workers and pay overdue salaries and compensation totaling 130 million yuan (17 million U.S. dollars).
Although the work of the joint investigation group has concluded, Sun emphasized that a thorough nationwide inspection would continue and nine supervisory groups were being sent to monitor the work of local governments.
"We should combine inspections with handling reports and complaints from the public ... to root out all the illegal kilns, mines and workshops," Sun said.
"We will show no leniency to the cadres who are found to be involved in illegal operations or even act as protective umbrellas for those carrying out illegal acts," he said.
The use of forced laborers hit the headlines after more than 400 parents in central China's Henan Province posted an online petition, calling for help in rescuing their children who had been kidnapped to work in small brick kilns in Shanxi and Henan as forced laborers.
An employee of a brick kiln at the center of the forced labor scandal has been sentenced to death for manslaughter and unlawful detention, the foreman was sentenced to life imprisonment and boss of the kiln was given a jail term of nine years. A total of 95 Party officials in Shanxi have been punished in the wake of the slave-like labor scandal.
Victims of the scandal have been telling their stories, fueling public debate on the issue of labor laws.
Shen Haijun, 38, recalled how some of his fellows were beaten to death by the staff of the brick kiln. He himself will be on crutches for the rest of his life after receiving brutal injuries to his legs.
"I just want to kill the kiln owner and the foremen," he said.
Shen Haijun recalled the dormitory conditions. "We had no pillows and the quilt was dirty. The whole room stank of sweat.
"We got up before dawn and went to bed at about 10:00 p.m. every day," Shen said.
When Shen told his boss that he wanted to leave, he was beaten with bricks and wooden sticks.
"Owners of the brick kilns had to lower their costs owing to limited profits," said Professor Chen Jinsheng, of the Shanxi University law faculty.
The raw material cost of a brick was about 0.085 yuan while the sale price was 0.1 yuan. Even if a kiln could produce eight million bricks a year, it could only earn 80,000 yuan.
With few workers wanting the tiring and poorly paid work, bosses resorted to abduction and kidnapping.
Chen Jiashan was taken to a kiln by people he met at a railway station. "They came to me immediately I stepped out and asked me if I'd like a job," he said. "I nodded and they took me to a van, without saying where we are heading and what I was supposed to do."
"It was easy to find workers at stations and there are lots of middlemen," said Yang Xiaohong, a foreman. "A middleman found 20 workers for me and I gave him 1,000 yuan."
Beijing University sociology professor Xia Xueluan said, "Behind the forced labor scandal is a yawning gap between the rich and the poor."
The per capita net income of Chinese farmers was 3,587 yuan (471 U.S.dollars) last year, less than a third of the per capita disposable income of urban residents at 11,759 yuan.
Workers are eager for jobs and easily prey for unscrupulous bosses, Xia said.
The Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress (NPC) on June 29 adopted a labor contract law, which is expected to improve protection of employees' legal rights.
The All China Lawyers Association (ACLA) submitted a letter to the NPC on June 28, urging the legislature to make slavery a crime with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Implementation is another problem. "The bosses of illegal kilns were breaking the law for such a long time," Xia said.
An important reason is dereliction of government officials, who even provide "protecting umbrella" for the illegal operation. A total of 95 Party officials in Shanxi, including two labor watchdog officers in Yongji City, have been punished in the wake of the forced labor scandal.
"Exposure of this case should be a warning to the officials who harbor them and turn a blind eye to their vicious conduct," Xia said.
Professor Zheng Gongcheng, of the School of Labor Relations and Human Resources, stressed the importance of teaching the workers to protect themselves.
"Chinese people are always told to obey the law rather than protect themselves with the weapon of law," he said. "This scandal should serve as a lesson."