BEIJING, Jan. 6 -- The Chinese government on Monday launched a wages overhaul to ensure that millions of migrant workers from the country's rural regions get properly paid before they return home for a major traditional Chinese holiday.
The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security said in a statement that five working teams will be sent to eight provinces including Zhejiang and Hubei to inspect employers' salary payments to migrant workers as well as local governments' related supervisory work.
The statement said that the campaign will urge local authorities to take effective measures to ensure migrant workers get paid in full before the Spring Festival, which falls on Jan. 31.
According to the statement, 10 ministries are participating in this campaign.
Violations by employers such as wage deductions and delays are an old problem in China that has pressed the government to conduct such a yearly overhaul in recent years to protect workers' rights.
The government first initiated a wages overhaul in 2003 and vowed greater efforts to solve the issue. However, problems have not been resolved. The challenge to fully address the wages woes of migrant workers remains despite years of crackdown.
Official data showed more than five million migrant workers were not paid on time or the right amount in 2011, even though a later crackdown helped them recoup payment totalling 15.51 billion yuan (2.47 billion U.S. dollars). In 2012, inspection teams helped more than 6.2 million migrant workers reclaim 20 billion yuan of wages.
In the first 11 months of 2013, wages totalling 22.3 billion yuan were recovered to workers, the data showed.
However, there are still problems for a vast number of workers from the nation's less developed rural regions, where job opportunities are scare and wages are lower compared to cities.
News reports of migrant workers begging employers for wages stirs the public. On Jan. 3 in Lanzhou, capital city of northwest China's Gansu Province, six migrant workers climbed on top of a nine-storey residential building to put pressure on their employer to pay wages by threatening to jump off the building.
They said they had asked for their wages for five months.
Qiu Xiaoping, Vice Minister of Human Resources and Social Security, told Xinhua that delayed wages is a problem that has not yet been solved entirely. "Such cases remain in great numbers and occur mostly in the construction sector," Qiu said.
The problem becomes even more complicated because small employers in some cases face delayed payment from higher-level employers, but the migrant workers are the most vulnerable, Qiu said.
In cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, wages for migrant workers are cleared each month and are above the minimum wage. However, in most cases, migrant workers get paid only a part of their whole monthly wage before they are paid in full when the on-going project is completed or at the end of the year.
In 2011, the country's top legislature passed an amendment to the Criminal Law to stipulate that malicious wage default is a crime and employers who intentionally withhold may face up to seven years in jail.
Qiu said that the government aims to hold both contractors and sub-contractors accountable for delayed wages.
Zheng Bingwen, director of the social security center under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, suggested that wages default be a criterion for assessing local government's performance.
Zheng also said government departments should coordinate their work to sharpen the crackdown on violations.