Workers Go Gangnam Style to Demand Unpaid Wages

The withholding of wages owed to migrant workers often sparks protest in China. In the lead-up to Spring Festival – the only time of the year that many migrant laborers have the chance to see their families – these protests tend to become more common as unpaid wages keep migrants from buying their tickets home. Many innovative methods of protest have been used in the past to demand long overdue compensation, and recently workers in Wuhan employed pop-culture to draw attention to their cause. The Guardian reports:

They have occupied factories and taken to the streets. But Chinese workers chose a more unusual form of protest when they highlighted their unpaid wages by dancing Gangnam Style outside the nightclub they had built.

The construction workers from Wuhan said they had concluded it was the only way to draw attention to their problems.

[…]The leader of the dancers, who gave his name only as Mr Lu, told the Wuhan Evening News that in total 40 workers were owed 233,000 yuan (£23,300).

“There have been many creative protests over the last few years. Younger workers in particular are very media-savvy and clued-in,” said Geoff Crothall of the Hong-Kong-based China Labour Bulletin.

For a picture of the PSY-inspired protest, see Chinese-language coverage.

As workers in Wuhan dance Gangnam Style, LinkAsia relays video footage from a CCTV broadcast showing more drastic methods of protest over unpaid wages, which in more than one case included suicide:

ChinaSMACK has translated Chinese news coverage and subsequent netizen commentary on the migrant worker in Guangzhou who detonated a suicide bomb while demanding his wages:

At 3:53pm this afternoon [January 18], an explosion happened in an apartment building in Guangzhou’s Tianhebei Road Dushi Huating Community. Upon report, Guangzhou Police quickly dispatched police officers and firefighters to the scene to handle the situation, evacuate the surrounding people, and immediately take the injured to the hospital for emergency treatment.

According to the preliminary investigation by the police, in the afternoon, a man arrived at a company in Tianhebei Road Dushi Huating Community to ask for his salary, then detonated the explosive strapped to his body. The man died of his severe injuries. At present, this incident has already caused 1 death and 7 wounded. Police are currently investigating this incident.[…]

Meanwhile, China Daily reports on a ruling by the Supreme People’s Court that may work to help migrants receive their due compensation:

A judicial interpretation that went into effect on Wednesday aims to defend migrant workers by preventing their employers from defaulting on their wages.

A judicial interpretation issued by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), China’s top court, clearly defines specific applicable situations in which employers who default on wages can be sentenced to prison for up to seven years.

A 2011 amendment to the Criminal Law classifies failure to pay laborers properly as a crime, specifying a prison sentence of three to seven years for employers whose failure to pay their employees results in “serious consequences.”

However, the “serious consequences” are not specified in the law.

[…]The payments mentioned in the interpretation refer not only to employee wages, but also to bonuses and overtime pay.

However, employers can have their penalties relieved or be exempted from punishment entirely if they render payments to their employees before being prosecuted, the interpretation said.

The interpretation is hoped to discourage wage defaults, especially those that impact migrant workers.

For more on migrant workers, unpaid wages or Chinese interpretations of the Gangnam Style meme, see prior CDT coverage.

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