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Thousands remain stranded at station
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Police officer Lin Hongjun sees the multitude of migrant workers crowded in the square at Guangzhou railway station, and he prays for them.

He asks the gods above to bless all those who are waiting to go home for the Spring Festival.

"I hope the bad weather comes to an end and the normal operation of the railway resumes quickly, so people can have a happy New Year with their families," he said.

Lin's home is in Guangzhou's Baiyun district, not far from the station. But he has not had time to go home to see his wife and newborn son, who is just 15 days old. The new father has no idea what his child even looks like.

Lin said he has time for just one meal a day, and maybe supper at 3 or 4 am.

He is one of the many police officers deployed to the station area to keep order, and help those who need to know about delayed trains, ticket sales, refunds, or simply where the nearest toilet is.

Lin patrols the station square for more than 12 hours a day, even as a nationwide transport system disrupted by inclement weather continues to take its toll.

Police officers like Lin, together with railway staff, are facing an estimated 500,000 migrant workers stuck in Guangdong. The province has more than 23 million migrant workers.

The southern end of the Beijing-Guangzhou rail line, a north-south trunk railway, has been paralyzed because of heavy snow in Hunan province, where power transmission facilities have been knocked out.

Seven of the eight highways connecting Guangdong and Hunan provinces have also been closed.

To help ease pressure on the railways, Guangdong governor Huang Huahua has urged the migrant workers stranded in the province to stay in Guangdong for the New Year.

When he visited the station yesterday, Huang promised to provide free transport to those who would like to return to their companies for the Spring Festival.

Provincial labor, social security departments and other agencies are also persuading at least 65 percent of the province's migrant workers to stay in Guangdong during the period.

The Guangzhou federation of trade unions has said it will provide 50 free movie screenings for migrants who choose to stay in the city, and has also invited 3,000 of them to a party on the Zhujiang River next Thursday to celebrate the Spring Festival.

"We'll try to bring festive cheer and comfort to them while they are without their families," Yi Lihua, a federation official, said.

Many employers in Guangdong have responded to the governor's call, with measures to encourage employees to stay put.

A Hong Kong-funded garment company in Guangzhou's Panyu district has decided to organize a grand evening party and banquet on Feb 6, the eve of the Lunar New Year, for staff who want to stay.

The company is also treating workers to trips to scenic spots in the provincial capital during the holidays.

Similarly, Aisen Food and Beverage Company in the city of Zhaoqing will distribute 200 yuan ($28) to each of the 140 staff who have promised to stay for the festival.

Many other companies are also offering an additional seven days' vacation for their employees, for them to return home between the sixth and 15th day of the Lunar New Year instead.

(China Daily January 30, 2008)


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