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Most Migrant Workers in Cities Unhappy

Only 7.6 percent of migrant workers eking out a living in the country's cities are satisfied with their lives, a recent survey by Shanghai's Fudan University showed.

The survey, which polled 30,000 migrant workers in major Chinese cities, found that 68 percent believed the urbanites did not fully accept the workers - if at all.

There are about 200 million migrant workers across the country, filling up positions in urban areas that urbanites reportedly shun and amid a growing income gap between rich and poor.

The survey also showed that working overtime was common for migrant workers - more than 80 percent worked over eight hours a day and 18 percent labored more than 10 hours. Only 16.4 percent of those polled had more than five days a month off, while 55 percent had less than two days off.

Working overtime with few holidays made migrant workers tire easily and could cause accidents, researchers said.

Exhaustion also meant migrant workers had little time to study and in turn led to fewer job opportunities, the study showed. All these factors made migrant workers dissatisfied with their lives in cities, it concluded.

At the same time, the study showed that migrant workers' incomes rose. Their average monthly wage reached 1,200 yuan (US$165) last year, a year-on-year increase of 200 yuan.

Still, 22.2 percent of migrant workers were unable to save money because their incomes were just enough to cover living expenses. About 44.6 percent said they hoped to continue to work in cities, while 17 percent hoped to find jobs in Beijing or its surrounding areas.

Joint circular

In a related development, five ministries led by the Ministry of Construction issued a joint circular last week urging for better housing conditions for migrant workers.

Employment units can choose to provide free shelters or low-rent ones for workers, or they should pay a certain amount of subsidy if workers arrange their own housing, the circular stated.

If conditions permit, local governments or employment units can also build houses specially tailored to migrant workers' living requirements.

Such building projects can be under preferential policies designed for affordable housing and should be channeled to migrant population at an acceptable rate, it was stated.

In development zones and industrial parks where the migrant worker population is dense, local government should build collective dorms.

The employment units are allowed to rent the houses for their employees, or the workers can do so themselves, but such houses should not be leased out or sold commercially.

A number of provinces and municipalities have reportedly integrated housing considerations for local migrant population into its overall city planning, such as Beijing, Chongqing and Hunan.

A professor with Peking University, Liu Minquan, lauded the policies and called for more funding.

"Migrant workers have made great contributions to the country's social development, but at the same time have not enjoyed the same rights as urbanites in many areas including medical services and education," Liu told China Daily.

If authorities can direct more funds under strict supervision to improvements in areas like housing, efforts to raise migrant workers' living conditions will achieve better efficiency, Liu added.

(China Daily January 14, 2008)

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