Chinese workers overseas need protection

Updated: 2013-08-04 13:07


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WUHAN - When Zhang Hongxin and his wife boarded a flight to Kemerovo, Russia, for a happier and richer life, he never imagined that he would soon be sending "SOS" messages online.

In March, when he learned that he could earn 10,000 yuan ($1,631) a month, plus free meals and lodging, working on a construction site for a Chinese contractor in Russia, he couldn't wait to go abroad.

Zhang paid the intermediary Xu Zhonggang a fee of 2,000 yuan, and the latter promised to help Zhang apply for a passport and visa and sign a labor contract.

"I was told that all I have to do is get on the plane, work there and receive money. Just as simple as that," said Zhang.

On April 18, he and his wife boarded a train from Xiaogan city in Central China's Hubei province to Northeast China's Heilongjiang province. From there, they flew to Kemerovo, where their dreams would quickly unravel into a nightmare.

Labor dispute

The couple found that the working conditions were far below their expectations just a few days after arriving in Russia.

"We have to work more than 13 hours a day, instead of the 10 hours we were promised," said Zhang, who added that all they had to eat were potatoes and greens.

Moreover, he said he only got several thousand yuan for the first month of work and has not received any other payment since.

Some 25 people from Xiaonan district of Xiaogan city have gone to work in Kemerovo since April, and they have all had the same experience as Zhang.

Although they were not treated as well as they had anticipated, they were still willing to work in order to be paid.

They negotiated with Xu, the intermediary, and the contractor to ask for better treatment, but their efforts were in vain. Xu seized their passports and the contractor threatened to prevent them from leaving.

On July 6, Zhang and his fellow colleagues learned that 61 people from Heilongjiang province who went on strike at a nearby construction site ran to hide in remote mountains after receiving threats from the contractor.

Worried their lives were at risk, they called their families back home, asking them to send "SOS" messages online.

The public security bureau of Xiaogan contacted the local Chinese consulate after receiving the report.

After negotiations with local consulate staff, the contractor agreed to pay the workers in a timely manner and not force them work overtime.

"My sons and grandson call me every day to let me know they are safe," said Zhang Ziyu, Zhang Hongxin's father. Four members of Zhang's family work in Russia.

After the contractor raised their pay, the 25 workers from Xiaogan decided to continue working at the construction site until the job is finished in November.

"It's a large sum of money," said Wang Xiuling, whose husband works there.

Wang said the urbanization process at home deprived them of their farmland. If her husband worked in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, he could only earn 1,000 yuan a month - far from enough to cover the living expenses of the family of five.

The 61 workers who hid on a mountain in southern Russia, on the other hand, were returned to China after the dispute was properly settled in early July.

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