Annual wave of construction worker protests in full swing, officials fret over solution

China’s largest annual migration will soon kickoff as China’s migrant workers head home to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which falls at the end of January in 2017. In the month of December, protests over wage arrears surged, particularly in the construction industry, as workers took collective action to ensure they do not go home empty-handed.

Despite years of efforts to prevent them, government officials still struggle to prevent this annual surge in worker protests. In a recent interview, top officials from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security pointed to the industry’s widespread usage of subcontractors, flimsy governmental oversight and general economic downturn as factors that contribute to arrear disputes, and noted that worker collective actions remain extremely common for workers experiencing wage arrears.

Across the country construction workers blocked roads, protested at government buildings and even threatened suicide to get the attention of the local government and pressure their bosses to pay them their wages.

20 jumpers scale Nanning mall to protest wage arrears

More than 20 migrant workers climbed the Wanda mall complex in Nanning, Guangxi, 13 December, threatening to jump from the rooftop if their wages were not paid before the Lunar New Year.

Like most large developers in China, Wanda relies heavily upon layers of subcontracting to build its projects. When workers demanded their wages, the construction company pointed the finger at the project’s subcontractor, who had already disappeared without paying workers.

Workers decided to take collective action to draw attention to their predicament. Not long after taking to the roof of the building, local government officials intervened and promised to settle the wages by the following day.

17 detained in Shandong to protest 7 million yuan in arrears

On 1 December, workers took to the streets in Jining, Shandong province, to protest wages owed to them by construction developer Mingcheng Xinlingyu (New Horizon).

The workers were owed 7 million yuan collectively for the construction of a local government building, amounting to 20,000 yuan per person. Police arrived on the scene and detained several workers; many were injured in the process.

While some of those arrested were released from custody, 17 were charged with disturbing public order and detained for a week or more. In 2016 police were called in 25% of the time during construction worker actions, according to CLB’s strike map, and workers were subjected to violence and arrest.

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