January 23, 2013; Source: Guardian

A group of Chinese construction workers recently protested their unpaid wages by dancing “Gangnam Style” outside the very nightclub they had built. A spokesperson stated that 40 workers were owed 233,000 yuan (approximately $37,000). Such disputes are reportedly par for the course immediately before the lunar new year, when migrant workers return home. Chinese workers worry that they they will not be paid if they leave without their wages and the protests have taken many forms.

Geoff Crothall of the Hong-Kong-based China Labour Bulletin says that these delayed payments are routine and he estimates that it adds up to hundreds of billions of yuan over the course of a year. He says, “There have been many creative protests over the last few years. Younger workers in particular are very media-savvy and clued-in…They have weibo [microblog] accounts and make sure people are aware of the fact they are going to do this performance and get the local media on board…It’s fair to say you have a better chance of success if you can get publicity for your case.”

In a recent parody video that went viral, a woman, speaking awkward Chinese, imitated a bureaucrat calling for payment of overdue wages to nongmingong (a group of former migrant workers). Approximately 250 million migrant nongmingong were in China in 2011, according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, and one report estimated that unpaid wages to nongmingong total about $16 billion.

There is nothing in the least bit funny about unpaid wages to migrant workers but these new efforts to call attention to the problem appear to be gaining the sympathies of the media. –Ruth McCambridge