Chinese government pledge to double wages gets reality check

As a senior government official announced plans on 18 April to increase wages by around 15 percent annually, and double wages by 2015, a 20-minute clip was posted on the Chinese video sharing site Youku showing the harsh reality for teenage workers in a Dongguan factory.

The video showed three young women workers at an electronics manufacturer in Huangjiang township who had climbed to the factory roof and threatened to jump in protest at their boss’ callous refusal to let them resign. Many employers in the Pearl River Delta make it very difficult for workers to leave because they are unable to recruit new employees.

The workers complained of brutal management and harsh punishments and a salary of just over 1,000 yuan a month. They had been promised 3,000 yuan or even 4,000 yuan a month when they joined the company in February.

The workers confronted the deputy general manger on 12 April but he dismissed their demands and instead fined them another 400 yuan. A scuffle ensued during which the deputy manager allegedly pushed one of the workers against the wall.

The workers reported the incident to the police and, on 13 April, climbed to the roof in protest. The incident was filmed and reported by journalists from the Dongguan Times, who discovered that several of the factory workers were only just 16-years-old and had not yet reached the legal working age when they joined the company. Moreover, very few workers had signed an employment contract.

The police and local government investigated and instructed the factory to sign proper employment contracts with the workers and deal with their complaints according to the law. It is not known if the factory complied or not.

The pledge at a national conference by Yang Zhiming, Deputy Minister of Human Resource and Social Security, to double wages in five years will be of little comfort to the workers at this Dongguan factory and many others like it that use arbitrary fines and punishments to deduct wages and leave workers with barely enough to live on at the end of the month.

Mr.Yang did pledge however to use the newly revised Criminal Law to crackdown on the malicious non-payment of wages, and promised that there would no wage arrears in China by the end of 2013. It is highly unlikely that this target will be achieved but at least the criminalization of the deliberate non-payment of wages is one step in the right direction.

As China Labour Bulletin’s Director, Han Dongfang, pointed out earlier this year: “This is more than just the failure to honour a contract. Wages are a livelihood issue. If you don’t get paid, you can’t live.”
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