To Stem Social Unrest, Chinese Ministries Step Up Legal Aid Efforts For Migrants Seeking Back Wages

December 20, 2004

According to articles in the Beijing News and the Legal Daily, the Ministries of Justice and Construction have issued a joint notice instructing legal aid offices to step up their efforts to provide assistance to migrant workers who seek payment of back wages.

The two ministries clearly intend to engage legal aid agencies in reducing the number of protests and mass petitions associated with migrants’ efforts to obtain back wages. The notice directs legal aid organizations to give priority in representation to those petitioners whose cases are likely to cause social unrest, and to establish designated centers for processing claims by migrants for back wages. When the case is particularly serious, the notice directs legal aid centers to ignore provisions of the legal aid regulations that restrict providing services to those lacking proof of identity or economic need.

Chinese government authorities continue to be vexed by the issues involved in claims by migrants for back wages. Disturbances frequently occur when migrant workers seek to recover the wages owed to them before they head home for the Chinese New Year. The notice may reflect government efforts to begin preparing for expected social unrest in the next few months.

Multiple levels of government have also issued administrative orders to resolve back wage problems. In the most recent example, the Hebei provincial government issued an order to clear up back wages owed by state authorities in the province by the end of 2005 and all remaining back wage issues by 2006.