Here is another twist on Chinese migrant workers’ never-ending protest against unpaid wages. On Jan 31, 5 migrant workers in Beijing, who dressed as anger birds, Garfield, Donald Duck, and the Chinese God of Wealth respectively, sat quietly outside the headquarter of China National Radio. Each held a sign with a Chinese character on it. Together they read “Pay back my blood-sweat (hard-earned) money.”
The pictures look so surreal and yet reflect such a sad reality that China’s millions of migrant workers face every year. Just a week ago, the Supreme People’s Court of China announced that “malicious wage withholders” can be sentenced to up to 7 years in prison. But of course, law doesn’t always work in the way it’s intended to work in China, especially for migrant workers who severely lack the knowledge and resources to get legal help.
Getting attention online is a much more effective way to have their due compensation paid back than to file a case to the court. These migrant workers in cartoon costumes are not the first ones who want to go viral online and use netizens’ support as a leverage.
In October, 2012, migrant workers from Tianjin held a press conference of the Ministry of Migrant Worker Affairs, using official rhetoric that closely resembled China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ routine press conference. They received their overdue compensation after the press conference video went viral online. Earlier in January, a group of migrant workers in Wuhan performed Gangnam Style horse dance to claim wages.
Many migrant workers in China, especially in the construction industry, only get paid a lump sum amount at year-end, which put them at extremely disadvantageous positions as their employers can easily withhold payments – the job has been done already anyway.
Year-end also means Spring Festival, China’s Lunar New Year. After a whole year of laboring away from home, these migrant workers simply cannot afford to go home empty-handed.