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Published: Friday January 24, 2014 MYT 1:35:01 PM
Updated: Friday January 24, 2014 MYT 1:35:57 PM

China retrieves $1.6 billion for migrant workers ahead of Lunar New Year

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has recovered more than 10 billion yuan ($1.65 billion) of unpaid wages for its migrant workers in the last two months, officials said on Friday, underscoring a persistent problem that often leaves workers empty-handed before a key annual holiday.

Many migrants only return home once a year for the lunar new year, which falls on January 31 this year. Gift-giving, including cash in red envelopes, is an important tradition, and theft spikes each year in the run-up to the holiday.

The campaign returned 10.9 billion yuan in unpaid wages to more than 1.5 million workers across China, Li Zhong, spokesman of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, told a news conference.

Li added that 890 cases of unpaid wages had been transferred to police to deal with.

China finds it tough to protect the rights of its millions of migrant workers, who travel to big cities from the countryside and small towns.

Engaged mainly in low-paid manual labour or factory work, they often miss out on education, healthcare and other government services.

There is spotty oversight of factory bosses who delay or deny pay to workers, while high demand for jobs means there is little recourse for shortchanged workers.

(Reporting by Sally Huang and Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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