Beijing - Chinese authorities are intensifying their crackdown on the illegal outsourcing of labor in a bid to protect the legal rights of overseas workers.
The Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an emergency circular prohibiting illegal labor agencies from dispatching laborers abroad.
The circular also bans the subcontracting of overseas labor service by domestic contract engineering firms.
"Overseas agencies are prohibited from directly hiring Chinese laborers in China," the circular says.
It also requests strict control over exporting workers for seasonal jobs or for foreign jobs with a minimum wage lower than in the same domestic industry.
Illegal behavior violating workers' rights will be exposed and the firms involved may have their business licenses revoked, it warns.
The move comes after the draft Regulation on International Labor Cooperation Management, to protect Chinese workers abroad, was open to public suggestions from Aug 3 to Aug 23.
The draft stipulates that foreign companies should either sign a labor contract with recruited applicants, or help them sign one with the overseas employer.
China has been exporting cheap laborers abroad to work as fishermen, construction workers or farmhands.
More than 340,000 Chinese people worked abroad in 2009, according to statistics from the Ministry of Commerce.
There are usually two ways for a laborer to work abroad. The laborer either signs a contract with a qualified labor service agency or a contract engineering firm which has won an overseas project.
The country has about 500 authorized labor agencies for hiring overseas workers.
"But the illegal agencies and sub-contractors are the main reasons for an increasing number of labor disputes for workers abroad," said He Li, a lawyer with Beijing-based Yingke Law Firm.
He said illegal labor agencies usually do not sign formal contracts with workers and sometimes they only sign fake contracts.
"The workers are easily tricked into becoming illegal immigrants, who only get tourist visas or temporary residence visas, not work visas," he said.
On Aug 12, two suspects stood trial in Beijing for illegally hiring 800 workers to work in Romania.
Fifty-five-year-old Luo Ying and 65-year-old Gong Xiaoning, both from Fujian province, were accused of illegally recruiting 800 laborers from Shandong, Sichuan and Fujian provinces and charging each 80,000 yuan ($11,700) from December 2007 to November 2008.
They did not sign formal contracts with the laborers, and cheated them with temporary residence visas.
The laborers only worked in Romania for a few months before becoming unemployed due to the financial crisis.
Without any wages, they had to beg for a living before asking for help from the Chinese Embassy in Romania.
He Li, the lawyer, said the circular will help workers settle labor disputes.
Shen Yuhe, a lawyer from the Beijing-based Yuecheng Law Firm, said labor agencies should be asked to have more capital and reserve funds when they register so that they can pay the workers in case of a dispute.