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Build a bridge that binds workers of all hues
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The Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region government facilitated large-scale transfer of Uygur workers to eastern China for the first time in early 2006. Soon Uygur workers from rural areas in southern Xinjiang became part of the great flow of migrant workers across the country.

The regional government's labor transfer method has its merits, but it is not without flaws. It does protect the rights of Uygur workers and shield them from unwarranted risks.

But since the government is the link between the firms and the workers, employer-employee ties are loose. Because the government assigns the workers to the companies, usually for one year, they do not in most cases seem to identify with their actual employers. This weak sense of belonging could lead to confrontations between workers and employers, or among different groups of workers, shackling the firms' managements and outputs. An extreme example of that was the clash of Uygur and Han workers in a toy factory in Guangdong province on June 26.

To rectify these flaws, the authorities of areas where the workers are sourced from should adopt a model of "training, certifying and transferring" to improve their skill and quality.

Apart from honing the workers' skills, providing them with legal knowledge and teaching them to speak some basic Putonghua, the training program should also enlighten them on the customs, rituals and norms of their potential places of work, and give them a comprehensive idea about work culture there. And exams should be held at the end of the training programs, with only those who pass being allowed to take up jobs away from home.

Moreover, the workers should be free to return home if they cannot adapt to or do not want to continue working. The responsibility of the authorities in the workers' home provinces and regions, however, does not end here. They have to look after the workers' needs even after they have settled in their jobs.

The Xinjiang government is reportedly planning to form a team of "excellent" officials to guide and help the workers. These officials have to have regular communication with the authorities in the areas where the workers take up jobs, as well as their employers. This move will strengthen communication and understanding between the Xinjiang and local workers.

The governments of cities and towns, mostly in eastern and southern parts of the country, where the workers are employed, too, have many responsibilities. Their focus should not be confined to their own development and the interests of local workers, but instead they should work for the development of the entire nation.

The relatively advanced areas, especially cities in eastern and southern China, have helped the under-developed areas through fiscal transfers and by contributing to the State revenue. But that is not enough. These relatively well-off regions should welcome people from under-developed areas to work or set up shop and share the fruits of development.

If this is achieved, migrant workers from under-developed areas, including southern Xinjiang, would be greeted by amiable people at their workplaces and fully identify with the entire nation.

Daily management in the eastern and southern cities and towns is crucial. The hiring firms should also organize special training camps for the migrant workers.

The administrations of the cities and towns will have to keep reminding the firms that the Uygur workers are a special group, and hence they should take steps to promote solidarity among ethnic groups. For example, the firms could hold events to show Uygur customs and culture because cultural exchanges can serve as the basis of understanding among ethnic groups.

The administrations should set specific criteria and incentives for firms that excel in these efforts. If the managements become more friendly and sympathetic, they can help members of the ethnic minority groups overcome the language barrier. The migrant workers will thus become more comfortable with the managements and accept their suggestions more easily.

China is a multi-ethnic country, a family of many ethnic groups, traditions, customs and cultures. For thousands of years, the cultures of different ethnic groups have influenced each other, and all of them have learned from the others. Their interactions for thousands of years have bestowed them with many common traits. It's these common traits that the Uygur workers should be guided to focus on in the beginning. This will prepare the ground for a future of solid social and cultural relationship.

It used to be the case that many Han workers migrated to the country's western region where many ethnic minorities live. Now, as the Uygur workers are also seeking opportunities outside Xinjiang, labor migration is no longer a one way traffic.

The emerging new migration pattern will reshape the traditionally compact ethnic communities and lead to profound changes in the ethnic relations in China.

(China Daily September 2, 2009)

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