Authorities in Sichuan's provincial capital, Chengdu, sent about 1,000 riot police to disperse a protest by a group of migrant workers and hundreds of supporters in Wenjiang district on Monday after Zhang Derong, a 20-year-old migrant worker involved in a back-pay dispute, was beaten to death allegedly by thugs hired by a local company.
Wenjiang district police confirmed the man's death on their microblog on Monday, saying it had followed a dispute between a construction company and a labour outsourcing firm. They did not elaborate on the labour outsourcing firm's relationship to the developer, Tianlai Group.
The police said yesterday that they had launched a criminal investigation into the case but declined to provide more details.
Delays in paying migrant workers, especially before the Lunar New Year holiday, have long been a cause of discontent on the mainland. Labour market analysts say rogue employers are a particularly serious problem on construction sites owing to lax supervision of building projects by authorities.
Workers are often left to deal with many layers of employers who can blame others and shirk responsibility for payment.
To make matters worse, few migrant workers on construction sites sign contracts and those who do hold little sway in enforcing their rights.
Zhang was beaten to death and two other migrant workers were injured when they were confronted by thugs at the Tianlai Plaza construction site at lunch time on Monday, local resident Zhang Yi said.
He said he later saw 20 to 30 construction workers protesting in front of the construction site, with a long white banner bearing Zhang Derong's name and a wreath to mourn his death.
He said some 500 supporters had gathered to show their solidarity with the workers by 7pm, when about 1,000 riot police were sent in to disperse them.
He said that plain-clothes police also popped out of the crowd to help detain those who were slow to leave and he was taken to the Jinma Police Station along with seven other supporters and held late into the night.
"Even though I said I suffered from hypertension, they still beat me up and swore at us until I lost consciousness and ended up in hospital," Zhang Yi said.
He remains in hospital, being treated for a head injury.
Police had also confiscated their mobile phones and cameras and had deleted photos of the protest before returning them, he said.
In another dispute, more than 100 migrant workers knelt in the snow in front of a culture park construction site in Tangshan , Hebei , on Sunday to demand pay owed to them. The local labour authorities pledged to make sure they received half the amount owing.