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Rights of Rural Migrants Must Be Protected

The government should take concrete steps to protect the rights of rural migrant workers as China's urbanization drive gathers speed, experts said yesterday.

Although migrant workers from rural areas have become the backbone of many cities' economic activities, taking on most of the low-level positions, current policy barriers against them have actually backfired and are impacting urbanization, according to researchers who produced this year's annual report on urban development for the China Mayors' Association.

In some parts of the country, discriminatory policies have prevented migrants from integrating into city society. They are often treated like second-class citizens in terms of employment, social welfare, healthcare and education.

For example, migrant workers are not usually granted permanent residence in certain cities no matter how long they have lived there.

They are also not protected by the same minimum wage laws as their urban counterparts.

"It's a problem the government must address as migrants have already become an integral part of the cities," said Niu Wenyuan, head of a research panel that completed the annual report.

Statistics indicate that nearly 90 million of China's 110 million rural surplus laborers have already moved into urban areas.

In Shanghai, migrants account for 25.6 percent of the total population while in Beijing the figure is 33.7 percent.

In some coastal regions, the proportions are even higher.

Nearly half the population of Zhuhai and Guangzhou, in South China's Guangdong Province, are migrants.

"Farmers-turned-workers can contribute more to cities if they are freed from policy shackles," said Jiang Zhenghua, vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, at a launch ceremony for the annual report.

The expert panel predicted that China's urbanization rate would rise from the current 40 percent to 75 percent by 2050, when the population in cities and towns reaches between 1.1 -1.2 billion.

(China Daily June 24, 2005)

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