More than 200 migrant workers from the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan protested outside government offices in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa on Wednesday over what they say are millions of yuan in unpaid wages.
Posts to the Tianya forums on Wednesday said the protesters had been employed as a labor gang by the Ganxiaorui Xinda Telecommunications Co.'s Tibetan division two years ago and brought to Lhasa to install a cable network in the Himalayan region.
None of the money that had been promised them, totaling more than 6 million yuan (U.S. $945,000), has so far been paid to them, according to a foreman surnamed Wu.
"When we went after the Ganxiaorui Xinda Tibetan division [for the money], they said that the Tibetan Migration Bureau hadn't given them the money, so we wouldn't be getting it," Wu said.
Workers said on Tianya that their representatives had been chased away by security guards when they approached the Tibetan Migration Bureau about the unpaid wages.
Now, the workers are stranded far from home with no money to live on, according to one forum post, which called on netizens to help with legal assistance for the men.
"We went today to the gates of the Tibetan Migration Bureau in Lhasa, because they failed to give money to the Ganxiaorui Xinda company, and they didn't give it to us," Wu said.
"In total, it is more than 6 million yuan, and more than 200 people are affected," Wu said, adding that some of the workers had begun cable installation work last year, and some the year before.
"They never told us a date for the money to be paid," he said. "They just wrote down where we should work and how much money the contract was worth."
"The arrangements for payment were a verbal contract, that we would get paid when the job was done," he said. "There is some work that still hasn't been paid for more than a year later."
Promise to pay
Later in the day, Wu said the workers had extracted a promise from the company that the wages would be paid within 10 days' time.
"They agreed to write down exactly what time the money would be paid," Wu said. "Everyone is in discussions now."
"It should be in the next few days, in one or two weeks' time," he said.
Overseas rights groups say Chinese migrant workers have been encouraged to move to Tibet in huge numbers, especially since the opening of the Golmud-Lhasa railway in 2000.
Beijing said it built the railway at a cost of U.S. $3.76 billion to boost economic development in the Himalayan region. The railway climbs 5,072 meters (16,640 feet) in altitude and traverses the snow-covered Tibetan plateau.
However, critics said at the time that the projected influx of tourists and traders would erode the region’s unique Buddhist culture, wreak havoc on the environment, and displace Tibetans from their own native land.
According to the London-based group Free Tibet, Chinese migrants now outnumber Tibetans in certain areas.
The exact amount of Chinese presence is Tibet is unknown, as many Chinese migrants reside in Tibet only temporarily and without legal registration, making it hard to estimate their real numbers, the group said in a report on its website.
"Most of the Chinese who have been sent to Tibet by the government are officials and technical experts," it said. "The economic migrants are predominantly the retail and service traders, construction workers and miners."
Economic reforms have created a large floating population of surplus labor, which companies and government officials seek to attract into Tibet with higher-than-average wages, tax incentives, allowances, and better housing, it said.
Currently, Free Tibet estimates that around 200,000 Chinese and 100,000 Tibetans are living in Lhasa.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.