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Migrant Workers to Be Honored for Toil

To mark the country's first Rural Migrant Workers Day, Chongqing municipality in southwest China will reward 10 outstanding rural migrant laborers, organize city tours, offer free checkups and sell cheaper daily necessities.

The city will also ask education experts to advise on schooling the children of rural migrant laborers, according to local officials.

Chongqing has decided to mark Rural Migrant Workers Day on the first Sunday in November to honor the builders of much of its modern infrastructure.

China has more than 120 million migrant workers, mostly farmers from west China seeking work in eastern China's boom towns and cities. They mainly work in construction, mining, cleaning and catering industries, or the kind of jobs usually labeled dirty, heavy, and exhausting.

Discrimination and prejudice against migrant workers are still common among urban Chinese, and news organizations report frequent infringements of their rights, such as unpaid wages, said Sun Yuanming, a research fellow with the Chongqing Municipal Academy of Social Sciences.

He proposed extending welfare benefits offered to urban residents to include migrant workers.

The number of migrant workers is steadily rising, prompting China's legislature and government to consider improving their welfare conditions, health care and education rights.

The government and city administrators have been gradually easing restrictions on migrant workers in recent years.

In Chongqing, one of the major sources of migrant workers, a statute safeguarding their rights and interests took effect in June 2005, the first of its kind in China. It entitles migrant farm workers to free job counseling, legal aid and free immunization for their children.

Sun said that Chongqing was also considering drafting guidelines to secure benefits for rural migrant laborers.

Since September 2004, Beijing has included migrant farm workers in the social insurance system.

In 2003, Premier Wen Jiabao pledged to help migrant workers retrieve unpaid wages after a housewife complained that her husband's wages were always in arrears.

In March, the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, adopted a resolution allowing migrant workers to be representatives in the national parliament next year.

(Shanghai Daily October 20, 2007)

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