Two HK bosses among 29 fined for failing to pay their workers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2007, 12:00am

About 30 bosses, including at least two from Hong Kong, were arrested in Guangdong last year and charged with failing to pay wages owed to their workers, labour officials said yesterday.

Zhou Libin , deputy head of the Guangdong Labour and Social Security Department's Inspection Office, said 29 bosses had seriously delayed payment and tried to abscond with the money 'with malicious intent'. He did not define 'malicious intent' or detail the charges the employers were facing.

Mr Zhou said the arrests made Guangdong the first province to use criminal charges to crack down on wage defaulters. 'Under local labour regulations, we can only impose a fine of up to 20,000 yuan on wage defaulters, which is too [lenient] to deter offenders,' he said.

The 29 included eight employers - two from Hong Kong - arrested by Shenzhen police last January for 'disturbing economic and market order' by trying to avoid paying wages.

Unpaid wages are a common problem on the mainland, and the country's media has accused labour authorities of failing to adequately monitor the situation and drawn attention to the prohibitive legal costs involved in recovering back-pay.

Migrant workers owed money regularly make headlines for resorting to extreme measures to recover their wages, such as climbing construction site towers, blocking highways and threatening to jump into rivers.

Mr Zhou said Guangdong had asked the central government several times to set out criminal punishments for wage defaulters.

Yang Lixiong , a labour relations professor from Renmin University in Beijing, said he opposed Guangdong's use of criminal sanctions to crack down on back-pay problems because the approach lacked a legal basis and would be 'impractical'.

''Disturbing economic and market order' is a fuzzy legal term and its use could undermine the rule of law,' Professor Yang said.

He said existing labour laws were strong enough to deter wage defaulters, and the key reason the practice was widespread was because some local governments only focused on economic growth and neglected workers' rights.

Zhang Fengqi , a provincial Labour Department deputy director, said Guangdong's labour authorities last year had recovered about 1 billion yuan in wages owed to about 1 million workers in 21,900 back-pay cases, adding that the caseload was 11 per cent lower than in 2005.