Laws and the Real World

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Mark Ralston / AFP / Getty

Two events last Friday worth mentioning. The the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, passed a new labor law whose aim, in part, was to improve conditions faced by the country’s 100 (or up to 150 depending on who’s counting) million migrant workers. roughly at the same time, a mob of hired thugs attacked a group of 300 striking migrant workers in Guangdong province. The workers had been protesting at the Dongyuan County Lankou Hydropower Station construction site over 5 million renminbi (about $800,000) in unpaid salary. This was no minor roughing up, either. The attack left one worker fighting for survival, two missing, and six remaining in serious situation in the hospital. “The first batch of about 50 gangsters came with spades in their hands, and the second batch had axes, steel pipes and sabres, and there were more behind them,” the Chongqing Morning Post quoted Liu Gangqing, one of the migrant workers, as saying. “They didn’t stop lashing out at us even when the police arrived,” said another migrant worker Li Chuanbing.

For mirgant workers this sort of incident is all too common –as is the withholding of wages. China’s construction minister apparently only learnt about the incident from the internet, which is a sad but accurate commentary on the state of supervision of workers rights by the government. It also underlines that, unfortunately, these sorts of attacks probably won’t be affected at all by the new law. It’s about enforcement, not legislation.