Starting from June 1, Antai Group, a privately-owned coke company in north China's Shanxi Province, has offered all its 3,818 rural workers a pension scheme that will provide for them after they retire.
Experts say that this social security program should eventually catch on across the country, helping millions of underprivileged migrant workers who play an indispensable role in the economic development of Chinese cities.
According to the company's arrangements with a local insurance company, each rural worker will pay five percent of their wages to receive monthly payments after retirement. The company will contribute to the pension program by paying 10 percent of the worker's wage.
"We'll soon make the scheme available to all the 3 million migrant workers in the province," said Li Shuntong, director of the provincial labor and social security department based in Taiyuan, the provincial capital.
Zhang Shiming, 62, was one of the first rural beneficiaries of the new pension scheme. He had been working for more than 30 yearsat factories and coal pits in Shanxi Province before he retired in2003. Now he receives 372 yuan (45 US dollars) a month from an endowment insurance program.
"The amount is smaller than what most urban retirees get, but is enough to cover basic living necessities in the countryside where prices are much lower," said Zhang Yu, an official in chargeof rural insurance with the provincial labor and social security bureau.
The well-being of millions of senile migrant workers across China has aroused widespread attention from both the government and businesses in recent years. Beijing has requested that all employers to offer endowment insurance to their employees, rural workers included. Many other cities have also underscored equality between their rural and urban employees and demanded pension, medical insurance and other security schemes for all their staff members.
Feng Xiuqian, a private entrepreneur and political advisor in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, recently sponsored a survey to solicit public opinions about how lawmakers should step up legislation to safeguard migrant workers' rights for pension.
"On the basis of this survey, I hope I can come up with a convincing proposal to the municipal legislature," Feng said.
Though only a small percentage of rural workers are covered so far by the endowment insurance, nearly all Chinese provinces and municipalities are working on the issue, said Zhao Dianguo, an official with the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.
Eventually, about 100 million rural workers, or 97 percent of the total migrants working in Chinese cities, will benefit from the program, he added.
"As migrant workers often move from one place to another, it's important for us to set up a nationwide social security network tomanage their individual pension accounts wherever they go," Zhao said.
Figures released by the ministry showed that 113 million out of China's 900 million peasants now work at construction sites, factory production lines or tertiary trade, doing jobs that city dwellers find too strenuous, dirty or low paying.
This special group of people, excluded for long from the urban job market and social security schemes, drew unprecedented attention in 2004, in the wake of a nationwide drive to tackle their wage arrears -- in which Premier Wen Jiabao himself played an exemplary leading role.