Bingqin Li and Huamin Peng
Published November 2006
The construction industry is important for Chinese rural to urban migrants. Over 90% of urban construction workers are rural migrants, and over a third of all rural migrants work in construction. The construction industry is not only particularly important, but is also different from other industries in its pay and labour recruitment practices. In common with other rural workers, construction workers have long suffered from various problems, including delayed payment of salaries and exclusion from urban social security schemes. State policies designed to deal with these problems have in general had mixed success. Partly as a result of the peculiarities of the construction industry, state policy has been particularly unsuccessful in dealing with the problems faced by construction workers. This paper considers both the risks rural workers in the construction industry face because of the work they do and the risks they face and because of their being rural workers. It shows that social protection needs to take into account both the work related risks and status related risks. The authors first review the literature concerning work related risks, and then build up a framework to analyse the risks embedded in their work and status, and the relationship between these risks and the existing formal social protection. Thirty one in depth interviews with construction workers, carried out in Tianjin, PRC, are used to demonstrate both the risks and the inability of the state-led social policy to tackle these risks. The results suggest that rural construction workers in cities were exposed to all sorts of problems from not being paid for their work in time to miserable living conditions, from having to pay for their own healthcare to no savings for old age. This paper highlights the problems of policy prescriptions that failed to recognise the complexity of the problems faced by these workers and criticises the tendency to seek quick fixes rather than long-term and careful institutional design.