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Migrant Worker Elected to Chinese National Legislature

A woman migrant worker in south China's Guangdong Province was elected on Monday as a deputy to the country's top legislature, the National People's Congress.

Hu Xiaoyan was elected at the provincial people's congress on Monday afternoon, becoming the first migrant worker to occupy the post of national legislator.

Her qualification still needs to be examined by the credentials committee of the NPC Standing Committee before she is approved for a five-year term as the 11th NPC deputy.

"I am very excited. My colleagues and friends used to turn to me for help when they were in trouble. Now I have had a very good opportunity to help more migrant workers." Hu said in a telephone interview with Xinhua.

A native of southwestern Sichuan Province, 34-year-old Hu has been working in a building ceramics company in Foshan City for five years.

She had been promoted to deputy workshop chief. Most of the workers in her company are migrant workers.

She said education would be her top priority as she worried most about her two daughters studying in her hometown of Sichuan.

"I think the government should attach more importance to dealing with the schooling of the children of migrant workers," she said.

Shi Famao, a Beijing lawyer who has been helping protect the rights of migrant workers since 2001, said, "This is certainly a good thing. The NPC should have deputies from migrant workers, a huge but disadvantaged group."

China's migrant laborers from rural areas are estimated to number around 200 million. They have become a pillar of the country's work force, but they face various problems, including pay arrears, workplace injury compensation, health care and their children's schooling.

"The election helps give migrant workers a voice and protect their rights and interests," said Shi. "Migrant workers themselves most clearly know their hardships and what needs to be protected."

Migrant worker Hu is supposed to attend the first plenary session of the 11th National People's Congress scheduled in March. Around 3,000 deputies will attend the annual event.

The NPC annual session in March last year approved a draft resolution on legislative elections. The resolution stipulated that provinces and municipalities with a large population of rural migrant workers should have an NPC deputy quota for them.

The minimum number of deputies to be elected from migrant workers is not specified, but NPC deputy regulations stipulate one deputy for every 240,000 urban and every 960,000 rural people.

Yang Chengyong, an official in charge of the election affairs of the Guangdong Provincial People's Congress Standing Committee, hailed Hu's election as great progress.

"It not only shows China's top legislature attaches importance to the diversity of deputies, but also the public's hope for grassroots groups to have more say in policy-making," Yang said.

Migrant workers have previously held positions in provincial and city-level legislative bodies. They have become more involved in the development of the regions where they work.

Guangdong has around 20 million migrant workers. In November, six migrant workers were elected to the provincial legislature.

Zhang Yadong, a migrant worker deputy who is attending the on-going first session of the 11th Guangdong Provincial People's Congress, said he would put forward proposals regarding migrant worker issues such as the slow growth of salaries, better trade union representation and health care.

He also stressed the strict implementation of national and local laws with regard to the rights and interests of migrant workers.

(Xinhua News Agency January 22, 2008)

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