Local governments throughout China have eliminated the use of the term "migrant worker" ("nong min gong") for official business, in an effort to curb discrimination and promote the integration of workers into society, Worker's Daily reported.
The Zhoumou county government in Henan Province changed its wording on a Dec. 25 commendation honoring exemplary transient laborers from "migrant worker" ("nong min gong") to "new-type contract worker" ("xin xing he tong gong ren") to discourage stereotyping. Pinghu City in Zhejiang Province also has canceled use of the "migrant worker" title in favor of "new resident" ("xin zhu min"), calling its migrant worker administration offices "new resident offices".
At the 11th plenary meeting of the 10th Guangdong Provincial Party Committee of the CPC meeting on Jan. 3, provincial officials said they would push to eliminate the "migrant worker" title and establish a system to help workers blend into urban life. Over 31 million migrant laborers work in Guangdong Province according to 2005 statistics.
China's migrant workers, who often travel from impoverished regions to urban areas seeking manual labor jobs, do not qualify for many benefits afforded to urban dwellers such as social insurance and access to affordable housing and local schools. The "nong min gong" title, used since China's reform and opening up in the 1980s, has been viewed by some as a way to classify migrant workers as second-class citizens. The central government officially has no policy on how the workers should be named.
One Zhengzhou worker surnamed Tao said he agreed the "migrant worker" title was demeaning and should be changed. "Although I work in a factory, I'm very much against being called ‘migrant worker'. It makes me feel like I am in a class lower than other people," he said.
Despite the increased sensitivity by local governments, some experts disagreed that "re-labeling" migrant workers would do anything to change the harsh social realities facing the migrant worker population or safeguard their interests.
"The key to eliminating discrimination against migrant workers is to promote social equity, both internally and externally," Feng Wanping, director of Henan Business and Economic Research Institute said, emphasizing that welfare policies geared towards migrant workers must accompany anti-discrimination efforts before substantial social progress can be made.
"Nevertheless, the name change is a positive signal that governments are trying to fight discrimination and social exclusion of migrant workers and help them blend into society," Feng said. He said that with household registration reform and social development, the government can complete its mission to fully integrate migrant workers with all workers.