Wuhan Migrant Workers Who Built COVID-19 Field Hospitals 'Going Unpaid'

wuhan-hospital.jpg A recovered patient (C in wheelchair), 83, is discharged from Leishenshan Hospital, the newly-built makeshift hospital for novel coronavirus patients, in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province Feb. 18, 2020.

Migrant workers in the central Chinese city of Wuhan who helped build field hospitals in record time to meet an overwhelming demand for coronavirus beds haven't been paid in full yet, RFA has learned.

Workers from other parts of China were initially attracted by a promise of 3,000 yuan/day for labor on the two field hospital sites at Leishenshan and Huoshenshan in Wuhan.

The money was to have been paid out of a one-billion yuan emergency fund from the central government in Beijing, and the high rates reflected the huge pressure on workers to finish the hospitals quickly, while potentially becoming exposed to COVID-19 patients, a migrant worker surnamed Xue said in a post to social media.

Xue said that by the time the work was finished, he and his colleagues had only received 500 yuan in total, while their employer, the state-owned China Construction Co., had left them on site with no way to get home during the lockdown.

Xue's initial complaint on social media has been the focus of much criticism of the government on social media; however, ultra left wing supporters of the ruling Chinese Communist Party have turned out in force to insult him and accuse him of lying.

An insider familiar with state-run construction projects who gave only her surname Wu said the workers were likely hired by a subcontractor, while the workers had been expected to pay for their own expenses under enforced quarantine, something that is against the law.

"There will definitely be layer upon layer of subcontractors [being used], for example, the design ... or the most physically tiring labor will be contracted out," Wu said. "That's always the way."

"They tender it to a contractor who in turn hires subcontractors," she said.

'Problematic' expense charges to workers

Wu said it was "problematic" that workers were being asked to pay their own expenses during a state-mandated quarantine, however.

"A lot of workers will take dangerous work, because labor is relatively cheap in China," she said. "Of course it's noble of them to work in life-threatening conditions, and it's actually pretty cheap too."

An employee who answered the phone at a helpline set up for workers at the Leishenshan site declined to comment when contacted by RFA on Wednesday.

"Right now we've been instructed to take calls from workers, and to sort out their problems following specific procedures," the employee said. "I don't have any way of answering your specific questions."

A source familiar with the situation said Chen Huayuan, the former head of the Third Engineering Bureau of the China Construction Co. had stepped down on March 20 after major quality issues including rainwater leaks had been found at both field hospitals.

An employee who answered the phone at the Third Engineering Bureau also declined to comment.

"Yes [the hospitals] were built by the Third Engineering Bureau, but I don't know the details of the situation you're talking about," the employee said. "I will have to tell our leaders about this."

Repeated attempts to contact Chen Huayuan's successor Chen Wenjian went unanswered on Wednesday.

Reported by Wong Siu-san and Sing Man for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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