Temporary workers in China blamed – for everything

On the last day of the National Day Holiday, 17-year old Fu Guojun was enjoying a barbecue with his cousin when he was suddenly besieged by over 30 uniformed security guards who beat him to death.

It was reported that the security guards had mistaken Fu for a customer at a local karoke bar who had not paid his bill. There were only four security guards at the karaoke bar but they had had reportedly called for back-up from the branch office of the district government. Concerned that it might be liable for Fu’s death, the district government in a suburb of the south-western city Kunming, claimed the officers were only temporary workers at a local security company and not formal employees of the branch office.

This is yet another case of poorly-paid temporary workers getting the blame for tragedies and scandals across China. Temporary workers were blamed for the fire in Shanghai last year and the CCTV tower fire in 2009. And in August this year, when the Red Cross in Wenzhou was accused of missing eight million yuan in donations by its auditor, the head of the charity promptly said it had been stolen by a temporary accountant. More amusingly, the “China Backbone Award”, which caught everyone’s attention during the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, turned out to be a scam in which everyone could buy a “China Backbone” for 9,800 yuan. Once again, a temporary worker was said to be behind the scam.

Zhang Ming, professor of politics in Renmin University, once warned in his article that China has stepped into "the era of temporary workers", because you can always find them everywhere, from police office to hospitals, from national TV stations to government bodies. And if you check Baidu you can find the term “temporary worker” defined as “the protagonists of every accident and disaster.”

What people have been asking is why temporary workers are getting the blame for almost every public scandal. Are temporary workers just like tiger balm that their companies can apply whenever they have a headache?

Anecdotal evidence suggests the numbers of temporary workers are increasing, however there are no definitive statistics to back this up. What is undeniably true is that temporary workers usually get paid far less than formal employees. A former temporary civil servant in Guangdong, for example, complained he only earned 1,800 yuan per month compared with the average 5,000 yuan earned by his formally employed colleagues. In another extreme case, a young female household registry officer in Jiangxi who was filmed in an online video arguing with an applicant, reportedly only earned 500 yuan per month. The officer later said in her RenRen diary that the world is sick.

While extremely low pay and lack of career development opportunities could explain why temporary workers are more likely to make professional mistakes, what concerns netizens the most is when companies use them as scapegoats to help them save face and shrug off any possible responsibilities. As one critic pointed out, if the truth is swept under the rug and no one is held accountable, more tragedies like Fu’s are likely to happen again.
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