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China: More Violence Over Salary Dispute

A migrant worker from Hebei was stabbed Jan. 9, resulting in the loss of a kidney, after requesting withheld salary from a subcontractor in Beijing, reports the Yangcheng Evening News

A migrant worker in Guangzhou, Tianhe District.  photo by Don Weinland

A migrant worker in Guangzhou, Tianhe District. photo by Don Weinland

The incident has been dubbed the “beg for salary, lose a kidney” incident by Chinese media sources.

28 year-old Gao Zhiqiang, father of three, had his right kidney removed after a subcontractor from whom he had requested seventy yuan in withheld pay, ordered his stabbing, reports the Yangcheng Evening News. A doctor has estimated Gao’s medical bills at around fifty-thousand Yuan ($7,300).

Gao’s case is by no means an isolated incident. In November of last year the “beating and humiliation” of Wang Hongli draws a connection between the requesting of withheld salary and violence. According to the Shanxi News Network, Wang Hongli, and husband Hao Shi, were beaten and humiliated by Wang’s employer and three other men in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province upon the request of back pay.

These incidents, while extreme, draw attention to the larger, more widespread problem of the unlawful withholding of migrant workers’ salaries. Terms such as “begging for salary” and “ill-intentioned withholding of salary” have become commonplace in the Chinese media.

Wei Bin, in an article at Jingchu Net, describes the struggle migrant workers often face in claiming the pay they have rightly earned and the social implications of such dilemmas.

近年来关于农民工采取诸如静坐、示威、游行、跳楼等极端方式讨薪的报道不断见诸于报端、网络。选择这些极端的利益表达方式,背后隐藏着无尽的辛酸与无奈,同时也反映出现存的维权渠道成本过高,成为农民工“无法负担之重”。

In recent years reports concerning a variety of methods migrant worker adopt in begging for their salaries, like staging sit-ins, demonstrations, marches, and jumping from buildings, have constantly appeared online and in newspapers. In choosing these extreme forms of expression, there is an underlying sense of unending misery and helplessness, while at the same time they reflect that the capital required of currently maintaining [worker’s] rights is too high. This has become a burden impossible for migrant workers to bear.

A Worker’s Daily report on the recent stabbing – which quotes the requested back pay at 140 yuan – reminds readers that while many suggest migrant workers take their case up with the Ministry of Labor, many among the migrant worker population are without work contracts and have no means of getting legal representation.

Instead, the article questions why such incidents have become common in China, and whether or not the social status of migrant workers has been devalued.

与提醒农民工法律维权、组织维权相比,我们更该反思的恐怕是,为什么包工头的恶意欠薪行为没有收敛,为什么包工头有如此胆量叫嚣“谁要钱,捅死谁”?包工头的淡薄法律意识,是不是就在于恶意欠薪没什么大不了,捅农民工一刀也有可能没什么大不了?

In contrast to reminding migrant workers of legal and organizational maintenance of rights, I’m afraid what we really should be considering is why ill-intentioned withholding of salary by subcontractors hasn’t been restrained, or why subcontractors so boldly clamor: “We’ll stab to death those who want their money.” Is it the subcontractor’s vague legal conception that ill-willed withholding of salary is no big deal? Or that stabbing a migrant worker is no big deal either?

Article 50 of the People’s Republic of China Labor Law states:

第五十条 工资应当以货币形式按月支付给劳动者本人。不得克扣或者无故拖欠劳动者的工资。

Salary shall be paid monthly and monetarily to the laborer. The laborer’s salary shall not be subject to reduction or delay.

Chen Bulei, a researcher at the Labor Relations Research Institute of the People’s University, said in an interview with Shanxi News Network, that this law lacks the detail and clarity needed to institute an effective payment system for migrant workers:

缺乏一个很刚性的、明确的工资支付制度,在很大程度上依赖于用人单位的守法意识或者道德状况,依赖于雇主一些内在的约束,而法律给予的外在制度约束是不够的。

[Chinese Labor Law] lacks a clear and rigid system of salary payment and depends largely on the law-abiding consciousness and moral conditions within the unit of employment. It is dependent on the internal bindings of the employer; the external bindings of the system as granted by the law are not enough.

The Chaozhou Daily and Yangzhou News both report an increase in withholding pay to migrant workers as the Chinese New Year’s approaches. The Chaozhou Daily reports that the number cases concerning the withholding of salary in the city of Chaozhou, Fujian Province increases by ten to twenty a day as workers prepare to head home for the New Year’s celebration.

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