Migrant workers face exploitation

  • AseanPlus News
  • Tuesday, 02 May 2006

THE 200 million rural migrant labourers now working in Chinese cities, need to be taken good care of their rights by the government and the society, experts said.  

A central government survey has showed that 68% of employees in China’s manufacturing sector and 80% in the construction sector were rural migrant workers.  

“You must be kidding,” construction worker Li Yuntian, 26, said when asked if he would be taking any day off for the official seven-day national holiday that began yesterday.  

“We work every day, we don’t even take Sundays off. As long as they pay us we will work,” Li said.  

Li, who along with about 40 other young men from Hebei province is helping to build one of the seemingly limitless new skyscrapers in Beijing, told reporters frankly that he knew nothing about the labour laws.  

Asked if he knew he was entitled to triple pay for working on legally mandated holidays such as Labour Day, Li simply shook his head.  

China is in the midst of an unprecedented process of urbanisation that by some accounts will see its city population grow by up to 600 million people by 2050.  

According to a recently published survey by the Developmental Research Centre of the State Council, the nation’s rural migrant labour force rose to 200 million people this year.  

The survey found that 120 million rural migrant workers now work in cities, while 80 million are in smaller towns. All of them have left even lower-paying farm life.  

The huge numbers of migrant workers have made it extremely difficult for the central government to manage the labour market, which in turn has provided limitless exploitation opportunities for unscrupulous businesses and local authorities, experts said.  

Many of these workers not only face lower salaries and poorer working conditions than their city counterparts, but do not receive social benefits, including pensions, schooling for their children and healthcare.  

Although central authorities have issued reams of policy guidelines on protecting the rights of the migrant workers, experts say the local governments seeking higher growth rates and bigger local profits routinely ignored the law.  

Even in Beijing, there is little evidence that the laws for protecting migrant workers rights are being enforced, according to an AFP report.  

“If we asked for social insurance and pensions, we would be fired,” said Zhang Duanqi, 38, a construction worker from north-eastern Heilongjiang province working on a site in Beijing’s Chaoyangmenwai business district.  

“In China you don’t have a choice, you have to take what you can get. Very few workers are complaining, it doesn’t pay to complain.”  

But Zhang, with salaries ranging from 1,200 yuan to 1,800 yuan (RM540 to RM814) a month and including board and lodging, gave the impression the workers with his team were better off than other migrant labourers.  

He Xiao, 21, a security guard from central Henan pprovince working at a busy shopping centre provided perhaps a more accurate picture of the plight of the rural migrant workforce.  

“The labour law is a big mirage,” he said. – China Daily/Asia News Network  

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