Violent wage arrears protest leads to nine detentions

08 June 2011
Police in the southern city of Chaozhou have detained nine protestors after a demonstration by more than 200 migrant workers escalated into violence on 6 June, with several cars being smashed and dozens of people injured.

The migrant workers, all from Sichuan, had gathered outside a government building in Chaozhou’s Guixiang township after a 19-year-old co-worker had been seriously injured when he confronted their employer on 1 June over a long-running wage arrears dispute. The worker’s father was also injured in the attack. The factory boss and two others involved in the attack were detained by police on 5 June, the China Daily reported.

Despite the violence, the reaction of the Chinese public to the workers’ action has generally been sympathetic, with commentators calling on the authorities to do more to protect the rights of migrant workers.

The authorities in Chongqing gained huge plaudits last month when they sent a SWAT team into resolve a similar wage arrears dispute at a construction site in the city, after the site boss hired a gang of thugs to keep the workers in check.

However, the vast majority of workers are not so lucky. Last week the Chinese media highlighted the case of, Sun Liping, a 65-year-old widow who was forced to go back to work as a labourer on a construction project in order to pay-off debts incurred after her husband’s death. She was promised 6,000 yuan for around three month’s work but when, after 82 days of back-breaking labour, she and her co-workers demanded their wages, the labour contractor who hired them refused point-blank.

Like many other migrant workers, Sun and her colleagues had not signed a formal labour contract, making it very difficult for them to go through legal channels to get the money they were owed.
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