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 Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 11:33 GMT
Chinese protests over unpaid wages
More than 100 construction workers barricade the entrance to the Greenland Gardens housing complex in Beijing  on Friday 17 January
Workers in Beijing barricaded themselves inside a housing complex
Protests by migrant workers in China are reported to have intensified in the run-up to Chinese New Year, as labourers demand unpaid wages so they can afford to travel home for the holiday or buy presents.

I always try to go home twice a year, at Chinese New Year and one other time - I guess that's the only thing that will keep my kids remembering me

Fu Ansi, migrant worker

Hong Kong newspapers reported on Wednesday that protests had taken place in recent days in Beijing, Shenzhen, Jinan, Nanjing and Guangzhou.

In one of the biggest protests, several hundred workers barricaded themselves inside a luxury villa complex in northeast Beijing where about 1,000 workers are owed wages, some dating back two years.

More than 100 million rural Chinese have moved to cities in search of work since the country began its economic reforms. Most work long hours for little pay and are denied even basic benefits.

The New Year public holiday gives migrant workers a rare opportunity to travel back to their home villages and visit families.

Widespread unrest

Other protests over wages took place in Nanjing, where more than 300 construction workers took to the streets, and in Jinan, Shandong province, where a man set himself on fire when his demand for overdue wages was turned down, Ming Pao newspaper reported.

In Shenzhen, more than a dozen disgruntled workers threatened to leap from an unfinished skyscraper, the South China Morning Post said.

According to a survey of migrant workers in Beijing, Zhejiang and Anhui, by the Chinese official news agency Xinhua, 72.5% of respondents said they had difficulty collecting their wages.

In Beijing, construction contractors owed migrant workers 2.2bn yuan ($242m) at the end of last year, Xinhua said.

A man working in a restaurant in Beijing said he was owed about 700 yuan ($85) by his employer, but could not wait to be paid before going home because the tickets would become prohibitively expensive as New Year approached, SCMP said.

"I would have liked to buy some new clothes for my small son and for my parents," he told the paper.

Instead he had settled for 25 kg (55 pounds) of lard as a present, the paper said.

See also:

20 Jul 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
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