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People's Daily Online>>China Society

Workers caught in construction contracting web (2)

By Chen Xin (China Daily)

10:19, January 18, 2012

"When salaries are withheld, workers are likely to organize to protest and to fight for their own interests," Feng said.

Police detained a man and some 20 men he hired to threaten construction workers who were asking for their past-due wages in May in Chongqing, Southwest China. Workers received pay three days later thanks to police intervention.

"Mobilizing police to help workers get back pay is quick and effective, but it may make workers believe that the problem could only be solved through the involvement of police. So workers might copy and rely on such means, which would threaten social stability," said Feng. "Such administrative means should not be the default way to solve labor disputes."

In 2005, the Ministry of Construction, predecessor to the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, moved to regulate the industry and forbid investors from contracting projects to individual contractors. The ministry asked human resources service companies to employ workers and dispatch them to work in construction sites, Zhao said.

However, those provisions were poorly enforced, leaving investors enough freedom to continue operating as they had in the past, she said.

To make those measures effective and to fundamentally address wage delays, she suggests that the government should facilitate more efficient payment mechanisms and more solid labor relations.

A recent survey conducted by Zhao's organization showed that about half the construction workers in Beijing, Sichuan and Jiangsu provinces do not have labor contracts with employers.

"Collective contracts should be more widely introduced in the industry to make sure that workers receive pay on a monthly basis, and labor authorities should strengthen efforts in this regard," she said.

Zhao said it's a common practice that workers are only paid when their tasks for a project have been completed. "Workers should realize that it is their legal right to receive monthly pay," she said.

Zhao is also calling for a third-party or supervision mechanism led by labor authorities to guarantee that workers receive due pay on time.

It is important to set up a fund allocated in advance by investors in case contractors do not have enough money to pay workers, she said.

The industrial federation of trade unions should play a bigger role in helping workers address labor disputes, she added.

Liu Jicheng, a lawyer at Guangzhou-based Sino-win Law Firm, said the reason why pay is commonly delayed is that the cost of wage delays is low for employers.

"Even if employers lose a law suit, they would only be asked to immediately pay workers' due wages. Although malicious wage delay has been made a crime now, it does not apply to more unintentional wage delays that commonly exist," he said.

According to China's Criminal Law, malicious withholding of wages is a crime, and it stipulates that employers who intentionally delay pay would face up to seven years in jail.

Liu suggested that the government should give support to enterprises that face financing problems so to ensure that wages are not delayed.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security has asked grassroots authorities to improve handling of labor disputes to ensure the country's 240 million migrants are paid before Spring Festival.

The efforts of labor authorities appear to be paying off.

According to a statement by the ministry on Monday, a one-and-half-month campaign that started in December has helped 585,200 migrant workers get back pay and compensation of some 1.95 billion yuan ($310 million).

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