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Solving problem of 20mln jobless migrants is everyone's job
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Employing China's vast number of migrant workers is of strategic importance at a time when the country is facing the worst global economic crisis since the 1930s.

That around 20 million migrants are jobless as a result of the crisis is perhaps the worst of all the crisis problems thus far.

China's impressive economic development is the result of rapid industrialization, the premise of which is to turn most farmers into non-farmers.

In other words, as long as the majority of the population are farmers, China is unlikely to realize industrialization, not to mention modernization.

The good news is that in recent years, over 130 million farmers have been transferred from agriculture to manufacturing and service industries.

That trend has been interrupted by the economic crisis.

The 20 million unemployed migrant workers account for an important part of industrialization.

If they're left helpless, it will not only affect overall farmers' income and social stability, but also the expansion of domestic demand, as well as the country's industrialization process.

The central government is greatly concerned.

The first document of the year, issued jointly by the State Council and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, for the first time calls for attention to the unemployment problem of migrant workers. It urges local and central government departments to create jobs and increase rural incomes.

This requires cooperation between the government and enterprises.

Securing jobs for migrants still at work should be the top concern. The government should persuade and help enterprises to retain workers despite declining profits.

Encouraging reemployment of migrant workers in their hometowns is another important measure.

Most of the former employers of the 20 million jobless migrants are labor-intensive enterprises, usually small in scale and demanding little skill. They are faced with rising costs and declining profits in eastern China.

Prospects improve if enterprises are transferred to the middle and western regions where costs are far lower.

As for migrants who cannot be reemployed, the government should allow them to retain the rights to contracted land in their hometowns.

After years of living in big cities, these migrants face adjustment problems at home.

Promoting their employment requires policy and financial supports from government at all levels.

Policy should guide the economy from export-oriented to internally oriented.

There's much sense in the argument that the unemployment problem of migrant workers is largely the result of a conflict between China's highly export-dependent growth mode and its urban-rural dichotomy.

So far, China has accumulated enough capital, technology and labor to pave way for expanding domestic demand.

Enterprises that have problems selling products overseas should turn to the domestic market by making slight changes in their product range or industrial chain.

Besides, it is important that the government grant larger support (both in policies and in capital) to small and medium-sized enterprises.

Those enterprises are the major employers of migrant workers. And their flexibility and ability to survive during crises make them dependable for migrant farmers in difficult times.

It is also necessary to allocate to migrant workers some of the government subsidies that are allocated to agriculture, and to give priority to migrants when there are job opportunities in public welfare projects.

Last but not least, large cities where most migrants work should shoulder greater responsibility in promoting these workers' employment.

These areas are relatively well-off and benefit most from the contribution of migrant workers. Thus it is their obligation to work harder to secure jobs for migrant workers.

(The author is professor of Shanghai Academy of Agricultural Sciences. The views are his own.)

(Shanghai Daily February 11, 2009)

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