Scholars petition Xi Jinping after construction worker’s mother is allegedly beaten to death by police

30 December 2014

A group of scholars from prominent universities in China has published an open letter to China’s President Xi Jinping asking the government to do more to protect the lawful rights of China’s 40 million construction workers.

The letter follows the highly publicised death earlier this month of Zhou Xiuyun, the 47-year-old mother of a migrant worker in the northern city of Taiyuan who was one of several construction workers demanding payment of 29,000 yuan in wage arrears. Police intervened in a scuffle between the workers and security guards at the construction site and Ms Zhou, who was standing nearby, was seized by one officer who reportedly grabbed her hair and twisted her neck before she collapsed on the ground.

Video of what is now known as the “December 13 Incident” went viral on Chinese social media and the accused police officer has now been arrested on suspicion of abuse of power, the Xinhua News Agency reported today.

The scholars, who had earlier this year published a detailed investigative report on construction workers in China, argued that the state needs to do much more to protect migrant workers who routinely suffer from wage arrears and other abuses because of the multi-layered sub-contracting system on construction sites and the lack of formal employment contracts and social security.

They recommended that the official trade union do a better job in organizing construction workers and that local government officials strive to ensure that all workers have a formal employment contract and social insurance as required by law.

The number of construction worker protests, the vast majority of which are related to wage arrears, has increased dramatically during the second half of the year. CLB recorded 55 protests in the construction industry on our strike map in the third quarter of this year, about 15 percent of the total. However, since 1 October we have recorded 168 construction worker protests, about 30 percent of the total strikes and protests across the country.

Police have intervened in many of these cases and the use of excessive force has become increasingly common. The actions of the police in labour disputes are a cause for serious concern, especially now in the run up to the Chinese Lunar New Year, a time when demands for payment of wage arrears always increase.

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