The Plight of China’s Migrant Workers
December 27, 2011Archer Wang6 CommentsBeijing Youth Legal Support and Research Center, construction site, contractor, income disparity, Let the Bullets Fly, migrant worker, migrant workers, pay arrear, peasants, rural area, wage arrear
From NetEase 网易《看客》
Ministry of Tofu: Migrant workers have been subject to unstable employment, hazardous working conditions, and low wages. On top of that, they often find themselves fighting deceptive employers for their meager salaries. Here are some pictures that show what they would do in desperate situations.
Migrant workers are considered “outsiders” in the city. Gullible and poorly educated, they often take a job without a formal contract, putting their trust in the employers’ promise. Sometimes they have to resort to some unusual schemes to attract media’s attention, hoping to use public pressure to get their deserved wages.
On June 4 2009, Feng brothers, two migrant workers from Jining, climbed up a tower crane at a construction site near Huanghe 1 road in Binzhou, Shandong Province. One of them hung from the crane with a single arm for nearly an hour. They did it again two days later on June 6, after the negotiation with the contractor failed, and stayed up there for almost 8 hours.
As of November 1 2011, 48-year-old Chongqing worker Luo Kaiyun had lived in a pier of an incomplete bridge for five days. In order to get a total sum of 190 thousand yuan of unpaid wages since 2010 for himself and his coworkers, he refused to go down the pier. As it’s approaching the end of the year, workers got wrought up when the manager disappeared. Luo volunteered to climb up the pier to attract public attention. During those five days he stayed up in the pier, his wife would put food in the bucket, and then he would haul the bucket up with a rope.
On May 21 2009, a man from Maoming, demanding his 4.5 million yuan unsettled payment, climbed up the Haizhu Bridge with a banner that read “I Want My Hard-earned Money!” He threatened to kill himself and demanded to speak to the people in charge of the construction company he worked with. His act made the Haizhu Bridge shut down for 5 hours before he was shoved off the bridge by an unknown old man, fell on the emergency air cushion, and was hospitalized. His act left him with paralyzed with serious back injuries.
On May 9 2010, 26 migrant workers begged on the street near a hospital in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, to raise money to hospitalize their beaten coworkers. A group of more than 200 people from Hengchuan County, Xinyang had worked on a construction site in the city of Jiyuan since September 2008. They didn’t get a penny after nearly two years’ labor, and the construction company owed them more than 600,000. On May 1 2010, when trying to get their wages, some 30 workers of them were roughed up.
Han Wende, a migrant worker from Henan, wore nothing but an underwear, a black heart-shaped piece of paper, and a mask that literally read “black-hearted employer” in Shenzhen on November 22 2011. His employer owed he and his fellow coworkers a total sum of 210,000 for their work since the end of 2010. They didn’t get any wages after the construction was completed, so hoping to draw public attention to their situation, they staged this unique walk-out. They didn’t have a contract with the employer, which has made their case considerably difficult. The words on the board says, “Is deceptive employers the reason why we can’t paid for our toil to build a better Shenzhen? Or is it because they keep subcontracting the construction project? This is a blackhole in Shenzhen University Games. What should we do?”
August 9 2011, more than a dozen of men jumped into a trench they dug on yellow river beach in Nanguotou, Henan Province, before their friends started to bury their bodies. Their pickets read, “Give back my hard-earned money,” “We need to survive.” They worked on a construction site in Zhengzhou Henan from April 2010 to April 2011, but didn’t get a penny. The project manager disappeared, and the construction company accused them of faking contracts.
Some 30 migrant workers gathered at the entrance to Zhengzhou Huayuankou Park on October 11 2010 in the city of Zhengzhou, Henan Province, and prayed to the river god to help them get their salaries. As part of the rite, they burned incense and joss paper, paying respect to the river god on their knees, and then sacrificed a chicken, spilling its blood on the ground. The organizer said he and more than 60 his coworkers never got paid for their work from 2005 to 2007 in a hydraulic project in Kaifeng. The project was completed in January 2007, but a total wage of 6.75 million yuan had not been paid. The migrant workers initiated a lawsuit against the construction company in January 2009, but no verdict had been made.
September 11, 2006, a man auctioning off his wife’s boobs on Zhongshan Road, Shengyang, Liaoning Province. This man and his some 40 fellow villagers worked on a construction site in Fushun, Liaoning Province. The employer owed them nearly 200,000 wage money. After petitions to authorities failed, he had to resort to this unique way to attract public attention to their frustration.
November 27, 2005, a stark-naked man protested on the bustling street of Jiefangbei in Chongqing. This 50-year-old man is from Jiangjin, Chongqing, and wanted to get a compensation for his paralyzed son. He carried his son to Jiefangbei on a stretcher, stripped himself naked before unfolding a banner that read “Contractor, please give me our hard-earned money! Please save my son, and save my family!” Due to a work accident on a construction site in Shapingba, Chongqing on July 10, 2003, his son had suffered from a serious head injury and paralysis. The court decided that the employ should pay the paralyzed young man a total compensation of 610 thousand yuan. Even though they won the case, no payment had been made as of the day the desperate father striped himself naked.
A group of migrant workers from Sichuan and Hunan gathered on Yungui Street in Guangzhou on January 9 2011, and declared themselves “the most trendy workers protesting over unpaid wages.” They held banners that read “let the bullets fly; let the commodity prices soar; but don’t let the hard-earned money be gone” to draw public attention to their frustration. Their construction company has owed them an accumulated sum of 2.66 million yuan since 2003. They were inspired by the 2010 Chinese blockbuster film Let the Bullets Fly.
More than 40 migrant workers held a press conference on a construction site in Xi’an High-tech Industrial Development Zone on August 2 2005. They made their case public: the employer had owed more than 150 workers who worked on the construction from December 2003 to November 2004 around 800 thousand unpaid wages. The workers were hoping to use the media’s help to get their money. That night after the press conference, a throng of more than 30 armed thugs stormed into the construction site and beat up 13 remaining workers.
Five migrant workers from Xinxiang dressed as Santa Clause in Jingshan Park, Zhengzhou on Christmas Eve December 24 2010. Their banner said “Santa Clauses wants their money.” Their construction company owed its workers more than 3 million wages. With the pressure from the media, it promised to settle the unpaid wages by the Chinese New Year.
A man who dressed like Cai Shen, the Chinese god for prosperity, threatened to hang himself in Zijingshan Park, Zhengzhou on July 23, 2010. His picket was titled “the death note of blood-crying migrant workers ” and told the agony of more than 100 migrant workers who had worked on a construction site in a Pingdingshan college since December 2009 without getting paid. The employer refused to pay the amount of 700,000 wage money when the project was completed.
More than 30 migrant workers from Sichuan wrote cards to their employer. In addition to well wishes, they also expressed their anxiety due to having got no salary from the employer as it is approaching the Chinese New Year. They had labored since the previous Chinese New Year till two months before during which time their employer only gave each of them 200 per month to cover board and lodge. When the construction was completed, they company owed all of them more than 300 thousand unpaid salaries. One of them received a New Year card from his son, which instigated them to mail out cards to their employer as a reminder.
A group of 25 migrant workers formed a heart shape on the street of Zhengzhou on December 29 2010, demanding their 260 thousand unpaid wages. One of them said, “we won’t stalk our employer, won’t threaten to jump off a building; we just wanted to help the employers find their conscience.” The papers they held read, “the 27 district project broke workers’ hearts.”
“The Cost for Chinese Migrant Workers to Defend Their Rights”, a study released by Beijing Youth Legal Support and Research Center, shows that typically it would cost a migrant worker more around 920 yuan to get back less than an unpaid wage of 1000 yuan, and would take them from 11 to 21 days. The common reasons why most migrant workers don’t want to resort to legal procedure are: workers have no evidence; it takes too long; no response from the authorities; workers fear revenge from their employers; they can’t afford to sue their employers.