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People's Daily Online>>China Society

Nation mulls cost of mass migration

By Liu Meng (Global Times)

08:51, January 05, 2012

The urbanization of 300 million rural migrant workers in the next 20 years is vital to China's development, and authorities are pushing ahead with the process at a cost of trillions of yuan, a government work report revealed Wednesday.

Analysts agreed that authorities should not balk at the huge cost, as it pales in comparison to the contributions made by the migrant workers involved.

The report, composed by a work group under the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), said the new generation of rural migrant workers partly represented the future of China's working class.

Whether authorities can reshape China's working class based on these migrant workers will greatly affect the country's development, it added.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA), there are about 164 million rural migrant workers in China, among whom 60 percent are aged between 18 and 25 and have better education - or the new generation.

Most of these workers work and live in cities, but as they hold rural resident registrations, or hukou, they have no access to the same level of welfare enjoyed by their urban counterparts.

A survey by the Development Research Center of the State Council (DRCSC) showed the percentage of migrant workers enjoying benefits was low, with only 29.8 percent having medical insurance and 11.3 percent getting unemployment benefits.

Zhang Zhongfei, 27, a migrant worker from Henan Province who started working in Beijing 10 years ago, told the Global Times that he would return home after earning enough money.

"Without much welfare, life is hard here," he said. "But I did not do any farm work in the past. After returning home, I may open a small plant to earn a living," he said.

The DRCSC survey showed that 84.5 percent of the newer generation have never engaged in agricultural work, 30 percent have no farmland back home and 92.3 percent do not want to return to the countryside.

With this trend continuing, around 200 to 300 million will move to cities in the next 20 years. The cost for resettling an individual migrant workers is around 80,000 yuan ($12,710), so the total cost for relocation in the next two decades could reach 20 trillion yuan, the survey revealed.

"The urbanization of migrant workers is a trend. No matter how high the expense, the government must carry on," Zhang Chewei, vice-director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of Population and Labor Economics, told the Global Times.

"Contributions made by migrant workers to cities have to be taken into account when talking about the urbanization of the rural population," added Chang Kai, director of the Labor Relations Research Institute at Renmin University of China.

"Consumption and employment will be stimulated during the urbanization process and local economies will be boosted," he said.

According to the work group's report, the biggest difficulty facing the urbanization process is slow reform for the resident registration system, as the country's welfare system is deeply connected with hukou.

The report said the most important tasks were to ensure overall equality of access to social security services among people, as well as to support industrial development in urban areas, especially in western China and small cities, to create more chances for arriving migrant workers.

No clear timetable or budget for the process were given.

Meanwhile, the MCA recently published a document about how to help migrant workers integrate into the urban environment, which is the first such document from the central government on the issue, the China News Service reported Wednesday.

The document said social security programs concerning migrant workers' basic interests, such as public health, legal aid and social assistance, would gradually cover all the migrant workers.

On Tuesday, Wang Yang, secretary of the Guangdong provincial committee of the CPC, said the province will design a system to promote the integration of migrant workers with locals, including scrapping the "migrant worker" moniker.

At a forum organized by Caijing Magazine in December, Chongqing mayor Huang Qifan said since August 2010, the municipality has granted full residency to migrant workers having worked there more than five years, and that three million of them had relocated there by November.

Separately, a human resources official in Guangdong told the Xinhua News Agency that labor shortage, a chronic problem that has plagued the province over the past few years, may become even worse in 2012 as more workers will be unwilling to come back after the Spring Festival.

Migrant workers in recent years have been seeking jobs closer to their hometowns that offer more competitive wages as China's inland provinces have been experiencing brisk development.

Yang Jinghao contributed to this story.

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