Young migrant workers reshape Chinese society, gov't seek ways to improve their lives

08:56, March 08, 2010      

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Kang Houming, a deputy to China's top legislature, finds it not easy to adjust between his many roles: a lawmaker, a listener to petitions and an agent for hundreds of millions of migrant workers.

Though he is a deputy elected in Chongqing, 48-year-old Kang believes he speaks for hundreds of millions of people far beyond his western metropolis.

Calls and letters for help, and demands from migrant workers in Heilongjiang, Zhejiang, Hunan and Sichuan provinces, flooded his factory dormitory as the name "Deputy Kang" became well known throughout China.

Being elected in 2008 as a deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, Kang has worked hard to make the voices of migrant workers heard at the legislature's ongoing annual session, which kicked off on Friday.

"As the deputy for migrant workers, it is my responsibility," noted Kang.

At the session, Kang, himself a migrant worker, proposed creating a mechanism to standardize regular pay increases for migrant workers.

Kang said his proposal was prompted by a flood of new reports following the Chinese lunar new year about labor shortage in coastal cities.

"The wages of migrant workers have been kept at a low level for about a decade and that's why so many coastal cities failed to recruit enough migrant workers this year," Kang said. "And this gives the entire society much food for thought."

According to an official report Kang obtained from the Chongqing City Bureau of Human Resources and Social Security, about one quarter of the city's migrant workers earn 500-1,000 yuan (73-146 U.S. dollars) per month and half of this group receives 1,000-2,000 yuan (146-292 U.S. dollars).

In contrast, the average housing price in Chongqing exceeds 4,100 yuan (600 U.S. dollars) per square meter, a figure that is considered one of the greatest barriers for migrant workers, most of whom were young generation born in the 1980s and 1990s.

"The young generation are basically urbanized," Kang said. "Compared with their elder generation, they are less obedient and more aware of their own rights and welfare. To recruit young migrant workers, employers will have to improve their working environment and raise their wages."

Official estimate puts the number of young migrant workers at about 100 million, while the total floating population topped 180 million last year.

Xia Xueluan, a sociology professor with Peking University, said owing to the new characteristics of young migrant workers, how to properly guide the group has become a new challenge for the Chinese government.

"If their calls are not properly responded to, they might become the pitfall for social stability," Xia warned.

The professor advised the government to form special systems to handle problems related to migrant workers and boost the group's sense of belonging in cities.

In the government work report submitted to the top legislature Friday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao promised to improve the employment services system and strengthen vocational training, with a focus on increasing the employability of rural migrant workers and new members of the workforce in urban and rural areas.

Further, he vowed to enhance coordination and cooperation between labor-exporting and labor-importing regions, and guide workers in "an orderly flow," especially rural migrant workers.

Wen pledged to solve employment and living problems rural migrant workers face in cities and towns in a "planned and step-by-step" manner, and gradually ensure that they receive the same treatment as urban residents in areas such as pay, children's education, healthcare, housing, and social security.

Local governments, particularly those in labor-exporting regions, have begun to seek ways to guide the orderly flow of migrant workers.

Wang Yue, Party secretary of Qijiang County in southwest China's Sichuan Province, said the county had already learned from its own experience in offering social security, housing, education and protection of rights for migrant workers.

"The migrant workers in our county used to go to big cities in a loose way, but we now need to strengthen training for them," said Wang, also a deputy to the top legislature.

More than two thirds of the county's 400,000 rural laborers are now working in other cities as migrant workers.

This year, the county government made detailed plans to help migrant workers to find employment or set up their own business in cities.

The county also plans to train 15,000 migrant workers and offer intermediary services and free employment information for migrants.

Kang, the lawmaker representing migrant workers, said he was not familiar with farming, but is excited to become part of the city's life.

"I intend to try my utmost to work for 10 more years in Chongqing. After I make enough money, I will buy a commercial house and settle down as an urban resident," he said.

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