Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition News and Article Release Issue: A59-G19
Release Date: April 13, 2004
Topic: Wei JingSheng Speaks at the 60th UNHCHR about Chinese Migrant Workers
Original Language Version: English (Chinese version at the end)
Wei JingSheng Speaks at the 60th UNHCHR about Chinese Migrant Workers
On April 13, 2004, 11:30am, Mr. Wei Jingsheng speaks at UNHCHR to about 700 people about Chinese migrant workers' suffering. The audience includes the delegates from more than 100 countries, UN organizations and many NGO's members. The following is his speech.
Commission on Human Rights
Geneva, 15 March - 23 April 2004
Item 14: specific group and individuals
Delivered by: Wei Jingsheng
Thank you Mr. Chairman,
My name is Wei Jingsheng. I am speaking here on behalf of the Transnational Radical Party also as member of its General Council. Today, I want to brief the Commission on Chinese migrating workers' suffering.
China has approximately 780 million peasants. Between 180 and 350 million are estimated to be "excessive" or in "dire poverty" and available for urban employment. Ten to twenty million will enter the non-agricultural workforce each year during the next two decades, in addition to the more than 100 millions of them now. These migrant workers are almost all from poor places in the countryside and thus they are also called "peasant workers".
They do the hardest and dirtiest jobs in the cities, yet treated as second-class citizen and live at the lowest level of the metropolitan community. Just to make their own way of survival, they have to spend tens thousands dollars to buy "temporary residency card" in order to stay in the cities where they work.
The unique feature of the Chinese peasants workers came out of a system of government-engineered labour exploitation on a scale that is unmatched in the present global economy. China's comprehensive regimentation of its young migrant factory workers uses internal pass controls that prevent workers from moving their permanent residence from impoverished villages to factory towns and cities and turn ordinary workers into highly exploitable outcasts in their own country.
Migrant workers usually work under unsafe or even toxic environment, with much less and even no welfare at all. According to the official statistics in 2003, there were 25 million migrant workers working without any protection at places where toxic air and/or excessive dust were constantly present.
Migrant workers usually work long hours with very low pay that is often delayed or they are even unpaid for months or even years. As of 2003, an official report revealed that the amount of unpaid salary to migrant workers was as much as 10 billion Yuan in the entire country. This is very significant for many who came from poor countryside where annually house income was less than 2000 Yuan.
Tragedies happened often when asking for unpaid salary but being refused. An official report pointed out that there were over 100 suicide accidents involving unpaid migrant workers in the Pearl River delta region during 2003.
The migrant workers have very little help from the government and there is no independent labour union to protect their rights. As a result, their rights are often severely violated and they have no place to go for justice. Their children have trouble to get into schools (usually asked to pay more; many were rejected for admission). Young girls were locked up in the factories during the days and in their dorms in the nights. When a fire broken out, they died in dozens, even hundreds for unable to escape from the locked doors. These migrant workers also are the most likely victims of the government's repatriation program which produced many wrongfully treatments even deaths and was only cancelled recently after major public outcries.
China's ratification of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and cultural Rights did not include the possibility to allow the existence of independent unions to defend workers basic rights among which their wages. They are not permitted to strike. The full force of state terror - beatings, imprisonment, psychiatric internment, and torture - is deployed against their attempts to exercise their right of association. The Chinese government-controlled media did all they could to cover up and not report workers protests around the country, although it is believed that thousands of workers protests have taken place annually.
Conflict of interests between peasant workers and city workers, especially these who are unemployed, made further discrimination and problems in between. In the year of 2003, there were still over 30 million laid-off workers in the cities all over China, affecting direct family members of over 100 million.
The year of 2003 is one of the worst years for worker's health and safety: 132,830 deaths are reported from January to October 2003, many of which are migrant workers.
One of the worst accidents is the explosion of a natural gas well in Kaixian, Chongqing on December 23, 2003. Because of low quality drilling and unqualified technical personnel was unable to control the accident at an early stage, over a thousand people were killed during the accident (mostly by hydrogen sulphide gas poisoning) and more than ten thousand people were injured.
Furthermore, death rate from underground coalmines remains to be the highest in China than the rest of the world. It is estimated that there are at least 5000 such deaths each year.
With various mechanisms for artificially suppressing workers' bargaining power, Chinese workers live under conditions that neutral researchers (and Chinese officials themselves) describe as "bestial," "horrific," and "abominable." Their rights of freedom, rights of association and unionization, are all denied by the suppressive government. What is happening to them often does not even fit China's own labour law. Nevertheless, the Chinese government turns a blind eye on it, systematically and purposefully.
On behalf of the Transnational Radical Party, I call upon to this Commission to fully investigate Chinese migrant workers' sufferings and to urge the Chinese government to abandon its practice of discriminations allowing these migration workers the enjoyment of their equal rights and dignity.
I thank you.