The problem facing migrant workers trying to claim their wages

The article below was published in the Chinese press and highlights the serious problem of wage arrears for migrant workers.

A survey on cases in which migrant workers are not paid on time

By Xinhua News Agency

How many migrant workers are not paid on time? We had expected to see a large number, but the result of our survey conducted later shows this number was much larger than predicted. In all, 72.5% of migrant workers are not paid on time. This is a great shock to us!

According to the survey, 60% of migrant workers whose payment is delayed ask for their salary payment by bringing the matter up with their bosses until their bosses are fed up with them and pay the salary. However, 10% of interviewees said that the only way to get their money is by threatening their bosses.

How many migrant workers are paid the full amount and on time? Not one governmental department is able to provide a definite and reliable answer. Reporters from Xinhua News Agency designed a questionnaire with 12 questions, interviewed 80 migrant workers in Beijing municipality, Zhejiang province and Anhui province, and collected 80 effective answer sheets.

Regardless of whether or not the questions in this questionnaire are well designed, it at least puts into the spotlight the rampancy of cases in which migrant workers are not paid on time!

We had expected to see a large number. But the result of our survey conducted later showed this number was much larger than predicted -- 72.5% of migrant workers cannot be paid on time. A great shock to us!

A total of 23 interviewees, accounting for 28.8% of the total, said that they are never paid on time. In addition, nine said that salary payment is often delayed. Only 26 said their pay is delayed only occasionally.

In contrast to this, only 13 interviewees said they are paid on time, accounting for 16.3% of interviewees. These 13 interviewees work for internal decoration companies. Their bosses pay them on completion of every decoration project. Nine interviewees said they are paid at the end of every year.

Why is the payment of salary to migrant workers so delayed? One of the answer options in the questionnaire is that bosses tell their employees they do not have enough cash flow. Nearly half of the interviewees marked this choice. This shows that lack of cash flow is frequently used as an excuse for delaying salary payment. Seventeen people marked an answer option saying that workers did not do a good job and as a result have their salaries delayed by way of punishment. Nine migrant workers with insight into the nature of their bosses said that their bosses simply did not want to pay them. A migrant worker called Wang Wei worked for three months in a restaurant in Datong, Shanxi province. His boss delayed the payment of more than RMB500 of his salary. Wang Wei said, "Many bosses simply find various excuses for refusing payment!"

Migrant workers are the hope of their families. Among the 80 interviewees, 43 people said they are the only breadwinners of their families, and 26 said another member of their family also work as migrant workers. Most migrant workers are at their prime age. Forty of them are between the age of 20 and 30, 16 of them are between 30 and 40, and 14 of them are below the age of 20. Thirty interviewees have worked as migrant workers for a period of between three and five years.

Nearly half of interviewees said their bosses promised them salaries between RMB500 and RMB800. Seventeen people said that they are paid RMB10 per hour or between RMB30 and RMB50 per day. Eighteen people said that their bosses promised to pay them no less than RMB800 per month. However, most of these 18 people are head-waiters or head-waitresses in hotels and / or restaurants, or overseers on construction sites.

There are cases in which some company owners attract migrant workers with high salaries. A 20-year-old worker said that his boss promised him RMB1,000 a month, but he is paid less than this figure. His boss pays him the minimum subsistence wage on a monthly basis. However, he has to pay for his work meals. Despite this, he remains full of hope, saying, "he will pay me sometime, I guess."

The delay of salary payment sometimes drives migrant workers crazy. A 51-year-old worker complained that his "immediate boss" cheated him and fellow workers, but no one knows the identity of the superior boss. They now have no money for meals.

What should migrant workers do when they cannot get access to money owed to them? Forty-eight interviewees said that they approach their bosses again and again until their bosses are fed up and pay them. Twenty-three people prefer to resort to the government. Many migrant workers said they seek help from the local labor bureau. About 10% of interviewees said that threats are the only way to force their bosses to pay them.

Deserving of public attention is that fact that only one migrant worker said he would resort to legal means. Twelve people said they swallow their bitterness because all bosses abuse rural people. However, some people refused to swallow the injustice done to them. A head-waiter working in a restaurant in Yayuncun said, "I will not cease from struggling for my money owed to me until it is paid to me in full!"

China Youth Daily, 2003.01.14, 01b

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