Distressing stories about the sufferings of migrant workers have become commonplace on the mainland. But even the stoniest of hearts would be touched by the plight of Xiang Guanghui . Last year, the Hubei native was severely beaten in the head during a row over unpaid wages, a familiar problem that has been the cause of countless violent confrontations, including some with fatal consequences. Mr Xiang is lucky to have escaped death, but has been left with a seriously deformed skull. Now that Mr Xiang's sufferings have been publicised, there is a chance he will be showered with donations to enable him to undergo further surgery to give his head a more normal look. He surely deserves our sympathy. But it is important for us to look beyond his condition and push the mainland authorities to tackle the root causes of the sorrows faced by Mr Xiang and many other migrant workers. Unpaid wages to migrant workers, particularly those in the construction industry, is a longstanding problem. It got so serious that in 2003 Premier Wen Jiabao pledged to solve the problem by next year and to introduce a system to stop unpaid wages mounting up. The good news is there has been some progress in reducing the scale of the problem; the bad news is it remains serious. Last year, a 27-year-old migrant worker in Ningxia became so emotional when trying to get his back pay that he stabbed to death his supervisor and three of the supervisor's relatives. According to the Ministry of Construction, migrant workers were still owed 10 billion yuan by the construction industry in mid-January. In Jilin , the provincial government has issued guidelines requiring employers who fail to pay migrant workers on time to pay compensation of 50 to 100 per cent of the outstanding amount. Construction companies that have defaulted on workers' pay are required to deposit 4 to 5 per cent of a project's contract value with a designated bank as security against further pay defaults. Time will tell if the measures will work. While they may be able to reduce non-payment of wages by developers and main contractors, the fear is they may not be very effective in compelling sub-contractors and sub-sub-contractors to pay up. Indeed, in Mr Xiang's case, the main contractor has washed its hands of the matter, claiming the dispute was between Mr Xiang and a sub-contractor. Moreover, in a country as big as the mainland, sub-contractors can always abscond with their money. Ensuring sub-contractors pay their workers is a complex problem that has occasionally cropped up even in Hong Kong. Resolving the issue on the mainland will require a co-ordinated effort by all relevant authorities, including public security, courts and labour bureaus, to take the fundamental right of workers more seriously.