A Chinese-owned company operating a coal plant in a village in China’s far-western Xinjiang region is paying Uyghur laborers less than their Han Chinese counterparts, according to a Uyghur worker at the plant and local officials.
A Uyghur from Chuluqai village in the town of Ghulja (in Chinese, Yining) recorded an audio complaint against Qinghua Energy Company, where he has worked as a coal miner and maintenance worker since the plant opened there in 2009, saying that he has never received an increase in his monthly salary of 1,500 yuan (U.S. $217) despite working both day and night and while his health deteriorated.
“I am a long-time worker of this factory,” the Uyghur laborer, who did not provide his name, says on the recording. “Whether in coal mining or in other positions, I have done all sorts of work in this factory.”
“I worked for so many years but haven’t earned 5,000 yuan (U.S. $725) [like my Han Chinese counterparts] in my entire work life,” he says. “Now what they pay is only 1,500 yuan a month. We’ve been working night and day, and you can see we only sleep here without leaving our workplace. They give that amount, and it is never enough for our daily needs.”
The Uyghur worker says there has been no improvement in work conditions or his wages during the more than 10 years that he worked at the plant. As a result, he has become increasingly impoverished and has fallen ill, though he did not say whether hard labor was to blame.
“Now my health has deteriorated and still I try to work hard without abandoning my duties at work,” he says. “We asked them to give us more, but they never did, and we are just accepting what they give. What can we do?”
Since 2017, Chinese authorities have arbitrarily imprisoned an estimated 1.8 million predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang without legal justification in a vast network of internment camps and prisons. They have also coerced many detainees into state or factory jobs where they endure dreadful conditions, according to credible and well-documented reports by human rights groups.
China has angrily denied accusations of forced Uyghur labor and other rights violations in Xinjiang, though the U.S. government and several Western parliaments have declared the abuses amount to genocide or crimes against humanity.
Beijing has claimed that the camps were vocational training and education centers meant to prevent religious extremism and terrorism, and that Uyghurs and others who “graduated” from them have landed jobs in factories or enterprises in the region.
Qinghua Energy, which has about 2,800 office staff and factory workers at the plant, has paid Uyghurs lower wages for the most difficult positions such as mining coal, according to the audio complaint obtained by RFA.
The Uyghur worker initially sent his recorded complaint to a Ghulja-based fanghuiju — a team of officials from different agencies sent out to villages and local communities to safeguard social stability in the region.
A security director who is a Chinese Communist Party official in Chuluqai told RFA that Uyghur workers at the plant usually are paid a monthly salary of about 1,000 yuan (U.S. $145), after hearing the Uyghur worker’s audio complaint. He also praised Qinghua Energy for providing employment opportunities to Uyghurs.
“There are many Uyghurs, including men and women, working at the factory,” said the official who did not give his name. “From our hamlet alone there are over 350 Uyghurs working in that factory right now. They get around 1,000 yuan a month. The ones who work there on a long term basis get 1,500 yuan a month.”
The official also said Han Chinese workers recruited from Ghulja receive monthly salaries of at least 3,000-5,000 yuan (U.S. $435-725), and that Han factory technicians and workers from other Chinese provinces received higher pay as well despite doing the same jobs as their Uyghur counterparts.
The head of the police station in charge of the district where Qinghua Energy is located told RFA that the factory delivers coal to poor local families and said that local Uyghurs perform the most labor-intensive work there, such as cleaning coal dust and moving gas pipes and tanks.
But he dismissed claims that the Han Chinese employed there do the same menial labor as Uyghurs.
“The Chinese who work there are mostly in administrative positions such as accounting and other administrative work,” the police officer told RFA.
When RFA contacted the company for comment, an employee said, “We don’t accept telephone interviews. You have to come to our factory.”