Experts attending an international seminar Tuesday urged the government to adopt a more liberal policy towards transient rural laborers and make cities more accessible to them.
At the 2001 International Rural Labor Mobility Forum, experts acknowledged the changes the government has initiated to help migrant laborers over the last two decades, but stressed that it should do more to facilitate and regulate the flow of surplus rural labor into cities, and enhance the protection of their rights and interests.
“Government policies (towards transient labor) are lagging behind research and the actual employment situation,” said Du Ying, director of the Industrial Policy and Law Department of the Ministry of Agriculture.
There were between 70 to 76 million rural residents living and working in cities and towns last year, according to a study by the Research Center of Rural Economy (RCRE) under the ministry.
Because China still employs a household registration system that gives a different status to rural and urban residents, migrant laborers are treated unequally in employment, social security, education and housing in cities compared with their urban counterparts.
The income generated by migrant labor will remain the main source of rural income growth in the coming years, according to Lin Yongsan, vice-minister for labor and social security.
Du estimates that rural employment pressure will build up during the 10th Five-Year Plan period (2001-05), with a growth of 26 percent in labor supply over the previous five years.
“The employment peak will not subside until 2007,” Du said. The forum, which will end tomorrow, is organized by RCRE, the State Council Development Research Center and the Ministry of Labor, and funded by the Ford Foundation. It was attended by more than 100 officials and experts from both China and abroad.
Farmers began to pour into rural enterprises and cities in the mid 1980s, when rural reforms unleashed huge potential in productivity, making millions of laborers surplus to requirement and creating huge numbers of job opportunities in urban economies.
Increasing labor mobility has contributed to between 16 and 20 percent of China’s economic growth during the past 20 years, said Lu Mai, a senior RCRE researcher.
Over the past two decades, the government has moved from imposing a complete ban on labor mobility to taking steps to introduce and regulate migrants into cities, Lu said.
(China Daily 07/04/2001)