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Cablegate: Migrant Labor Market Snapshot: Cracks in The

DE RUEHSH #0208/01 3240247
R 200247Z NOV 09




E.O. 12958: N/A

(U) This Cable is Sensitive but Unclassified. Please handle

1. (SBU) Summary: A recent visit to a major labor market in
Shenyang shows that despite government and NGO efforts to
increase protections for migrant workers, an underclass of
mostly unskilled migrants continues to exist here.
Individuals in this situation have difficulty finding
temporary work, going weeks or more between jobs. Several
workers complained about forced 14-hour workdays, despite
having agreed to a monthly rate based on an 8-hour workday.
Others complained of difficult living conditions and having
lodging and food subtracted from wages even after having
employers orally agree to provide free room and board.
Health care is a major problem for migrant workers,
notwithstanding the rules dictating that employers purchase
coverage for their employees. Furthermore, when migrants are
hurt on the job, the boss generally picks the cheapest
treatment; no matter what the long-term consequences or the
doctor's expert opinion might be. End Summary.

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Hard Times

2. (U) On November 12, Poloff visited Little Bird, a
well-known non-profit organization that helps migrant workers
find work and, through a network of volunteer lawyers and
other specialists, helps protect migrant workers' rights. The
following day Poloff visited a nearby labor market where
predominantly migrant laborers seek short-term work. Near the
market, an obviously drunk young man dressed in thick, dirty
clothes passed Poloff, prompting our sardonic locally
employed staff (LES) to quip "Can you feel the change in the
atmosphere?" Nearby, twenty men milled around a railing
overlooking a scenic pond, attempting to keep warm in the
snow and cold, while another crowd of men surrounded two
cars, apparently bargaining for work.

3. (SBU) Originally outdoors but now housed in a spacious,
smoke-filled building, the market is more than 20 years old.
On one wall an electronic board advertises potential jobs and
phone numbers. However, as one hopeful laborer pointed out,
the advertisements never change. To the right of the job
bulletin board are the Heping District Migrant Workers Civil
Rights Maintenance Center, the Heping District Migrant
Workers Labor Skills Training Center, and the Luyuan Labor
Union AIDS Control Center. The doors to all were locked at
11:00 A.M., three and a half hours before the market's close.
Upon entering the market, Poloff was immediately surrounded
by a group of workers who identified themselves as migrants.
Several asked Poloff and the accompanying LES if they were
hiring, and in the course of a 40-minute conversation with
one group, other workers approached, asking the same. The
laborers were all eager to make money to return home for
Chinese New Year, still three months away. Most were from
rural areas of Liaoning Province. However, people from Jilin,
Heilongjiang, Shandong, Anhui, Sichuan, and other provinces
come to the market looking for work as well.

4. (SBU) Fewer than a hundred migrants were in the building,
giving it an empty feel. The accompanying LES said that when
he last visited the market several years ago, there were
about 800 people. However, the prior visit, during the
state-owned enterprises restructuring era, occurred during
the summertime--high season for seeking employment. At this
time of year, he said, the only people looking for work are
those who still don't have enough money to go home to reunite
with family. Most of the migrants were men, though one of the
few women was among the most open. She and another talkative
worker, a Liaoning native recently returned from a six-year
stint working in Shanghai, explained that the market was
usually quite busy. The market opens at 7:00 and closes at
2:30, so it was relatively late in the day. The several
inches of snow on the ground may also have kept the numbers
down, they opined.

5. (SBU) Many of the laborers were in their mid-40s or older;
all were unskilled, most wore army jackets, and all
complained that finding work was difficult, taking at least
several weeks, and sometimes more than a month for temporary,
low-quality work with few social protections. For example,
the woman explained that she had taken a job in a brick
factory where she and the employer had agreed to an 8-hour
day and RMB 1000-per-month salary. Instead, she was forced to
work 14-hour days. Another man complained that he had agreed
to work for 8 hours a day for RMB 1000 a month, with housing
and food included, but instead lived in an unheated garage
with the cost of food coming out of his wages. Several others
complained of similar problems. None of the workers had
signed a contract, and all said that while they understood

SHENYANG 00000208 002 OF 003

they were free to leave, others would no doubt readily take
their jobs. The only people who get to sign contracts, the
woman explained, are the young and the educated. The worker
returned from Shanghai offered a striking example of the
difficult situation he faces back home in Shenyang. Prior to
being laid off from his job at the Baoshan Steel Plant, he
made between RMB 2000-3000 a month, including free housing
and food. Even with the higher cost of living in Shanghai, "I
only had to spend money for clothes and for things I liked,"
he said, adding that he had more disposable income in
Shanghai and that wages here are too low. Despite the
complaints, these workers said they willingly take jobs
without protections. As the woman explained, after a certain
amount of time without work, people take any job so they can

The Kind of Help We Can Do Without

6. (SBU) The migrants Poloff encountered in the market appear
to fall through the cracks. According to them, they receive
no money from the government, have no shelters to turn to,
and do not have the type of problems that established
organizations are equipped to address. The same talkative
woman and others explained that while there are soup kitchens
for homeless Shenyang residents, hungry migrants have no
place to turn. The social assistance programs are geared
primarily towards resident beggars and the homeless. In order
to receive help from the Social Assistance Center, people
must show an ID card and give the location of their household
registration. They must also say why they are seeking help
and give contact information for their relatives, making it
easy for the municipal groups to verify that they are
unqualified migrants. In the end, they believe they have to
rely on themselves.

7. (SBU) The migrants we met had heard of Little Bird but
said they did not find the group particularly helpful. They
complained that the kinds of work Little Bird is able to find
is not suitable for them because of their lack of required
skills. While Little Bird can be helpful in claiming back
wages, the migrants believed the NGO to be of no help in
enforcing oral agreements to work no more than a set number
of hours without receiving extra pay. In fact, a former
employee who worked at Little Bird as recently as this summer
said that to his knowledge no migrant had ever approached
Little Bird with such a complaint. In his view, it would be
extremely difficult to collect evidence to prove overwork
with no extra pay. Many of the migrants are also members of
the Luyuan Labor Union - a union that helps laborers claim
back wages. As with Little Bird, the union is of little use
because claiming back wages is not the primary problem -
getting a job to start with and having contract agreements
honored for both hours worked and wages are the primary

8. (SBU) During Poloff's visit to Little Bird, Ms. Lu Yanli
explained that the major problem facing migrant labor these
days is finding work and her impression was that people were
generally able to do so within a few weeks. She also had a
positive view of the protections both the Shenyang city
government and the Liaoning Provincial government provided
migrants, particularly as they relate to securing wages in a
timely fashion and receiving health care for work-related
injuries. She also said that recent rules passed ensuring
that migrant laborers and locally-hired individuals receive
the same pay for the same work offer further protections and
said she knew of no recent complaints of disparate wages.

9. (SBU) Lu's impressions do not necessarily contradict those
of the migrants we met at the market, but in some ways they
provide evidence of that migrants form an underclass, perhaps
small, living life with little or no protection. The migrants
with whom we spoke did not complain about unequal pay with
non-migrant laborers because they perform jobs that only
other migrants in similarly precarious situations would do.
Nor is delinquent pay the issue. Being paid to scale for the
stated number of contract hours is the chief problem. And as
far as health care goes, the migrants we talked to simply
laughed bitterly when asked if they had such coverage.

10. (SBU) A recent experience from our LES assistant offers a
prime example of the lack of health coverage for migrants.
While waiting for a medical exam, our LES saw a migrant
worker enter the clinic with a broken foot. (He had fallen
from a 9-foot ladder.) When the doctor suggested surgery, the
worker looked up at a well-dressed man, presumably his boss,
shook his head no, and settled for a plastic cast despite
warnings that pressure from the swollen foot against the cast

SHENYANG 00000208 003 OF 003

could cause permanent damage. When the worker was asked if he
had insurance, the boss intervened to say he did not. The
physician subsequently told our LES he had seen many similar
cases, despite the fact that employers are required to buy
both medical and work-related injury insurance. And, the
doctor added, when migrants are hurt, the boss always picks
the cheapest treatment, no matter what the long-term
consequences or the doctor's expert opinion might be.


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