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November 19, 2010

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Workers demand pay, some flee after arrests

IT was on a grimy narrow street on Changde Road that a shabby van drove in quietly, with its driver jumping off and whispering to a group of migrant workers.

"Get in quick, we're heading to Jinshan District."

The man was a labor contractor who worked with the Jiayi Building Decoration Engineering Co which was conducting the renovation project on three residential buildings in Jing'an District - one of them caught fire leading to 53 deaths.

He was trying to persuade the other 11 migrant workers, five from Henan Province and six from Jiangsu, who were in charge of the wall renovations at the two buildings next to the burnt one, to flee from the downtown area to a safer place in the suburbs.

About 40 migrant workers from Anhui Province have already fled from their temporary dormitory on Changde Road to their hometowns or other places after several unlicensed welders were held by police for allegedly causing the deadly fire.

However, the 11 migrant workers rejected the labor contractor's suggestion and claimed that they would not leave until Jiayi paid them the defaulted money for their work.

Many of the 11 workers said the company owed them each 5,000 yuan (US$647) to 7,000 for work they did on the renovation project.

As the project was halted after the fire, those migrant workers were left in the dormitory with nothing to do.

"We are not criminals who started the fire, why should we run away?" asked a worker, surnamed Wu.

On Wednesday afternoon, 40-plus Anhui migrant workers who worked on the burnt building gathered in front of the dormitory with their wives and children to demand that their labor contractor collected the money from the company and paid them the money, Wu said.

But they soon fled empty-handed as the contractor warned them that they might be arrested by the police for working without a license.

"License?" asked a 20-year-old worker, surnamed Huang, "None of us has a license, neither for welding nor for renovation work."

Even so, they had been working for Jiayi on the renovation project for nearly six months.

Huang said they were only a small part of the migrant worker teams hired by Jiayi. Other teams consisted of painters, cement workers and various others.

"I feel like I was cheated," said one migrant worker, surnamed Wang, "We thought it was a big government company that could afford the huge project."

They didn't know that Jiayi is a small company that only had about 10 workers, and a registered capital of 5 million yuan.


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