January 12th, 2011 | China Daily Rights of migrant workers
With the Chinese lunar New Year three weeks away, a large migration will take place as people hit the roads for family reunions.
A floating population of more than 200 million is the ready source of home goers before China’s most important holiday that falls on Feb 3. The National Population and Family Planning Commission’s report of the transient population in 2010 found that 100 million were young people working away from home. More than 16.32 million old people were left behind with young children in rural areas.
In the 1980s, China’s economic reform opened the floodgates of migration from rural to urban areas. The migrants numbered around 2 million; today more than one-tenth of the nation’s 1.3 billion are on the move. The number of migrants is expected to rise, with some analysts predicting that it will reach 300 million by the year 2015.
Migrants make up 40 percent of the urban labor force. They form the silent backbone of the nation’s impressive economic development.
The existing hukou, or household registration, system appears to be too rigid to accommodate the new situation.
The strict regulation of social benefits legally ties residents to one area of the country. Most of the migrants are unregistered and therefore unable to claim either government benefits or protection from employer exploitation.
The hukou system continues to require migrants, especially rural people, to apply for a difficult-to-obtain change of residence to live in cities and receive government benefits.
We can be proud of the fact that the massive migration has not given rise to clusters of slums, as is the case in India and Brazil, but the pace of migration has been carefully managed at the expense of the large group of migrants.
They are second-class citizens in their own homeland. Living alongside their urban cousins, migrant workers face unfair treatment from employers and are held in contempt by city dwellers.
As the need for more urban workers rises, government regulation of internal migration needs to evolve accordingly to put them on an equal footing in education, medical treatment and insurance.
Migration is a logical consequence of the new economic climate. Migrants provide the human capital fuelling economic development that the rest of the world regards with envy.
However, the large group of migrants is left deprived.
Drastic reform is necessary to deal with a problem involving 200 million people. We have already seen some positive moves by the government and local authorities.
When starting its sixth census last year, the nation counted people based on where they actually live rather than where they are registered under the hukou system.
This may mean a lot to migrants as the results are expected to be the basis of decision making.