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Justice, Equality Demanded for Intinerant Laborers
Members of China's top advisory body called for justice and equality for all domestic migrant workers on Thursday.

"Rural workers have helped build China's continued economic growth and should not be undervalued," said Chu Zhuang, a member of the Ninth National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), who is pushing for more respect and concern for migrant workers.

China now has a transient population of 70 million. Statistics indicate that China's farm workers send home about 100 billion yuan (US$12.1 billion) each year and increases in the number of migrant labourers are inevitable as the economy develops.

Chu said farm workers who seek jobs in cities still do not receive the same treatment as urban dwellers in areas such as social security, children's education and residence registration.

Beijing and Shenzhen have carried out major reform to welcome the settlement of farmers in urban areas. Beijing has asked local enterprises that employ migrant workers to provide old-age insurance, unemployment insurance and industrial injuries insurance.

CPPCC members said Beijing and Shenzhen's work are encouraging models for the central government to take effective measures to increase farmers' incomes, but the growing income gap between farmers and urban residents cannot be ignored.

Last year, farmers' income increased by 4.2 per cent, only half the growth rate of urban residents which was 8.5 per cent.

"It clearly shows the unfavourable position of farmers and agriculture," said Hong Fuzeng, former vice-minister of agriculture, now a deputy to the on-going session of the Ninth National People's Congress (NPC).

With the country's plan to change from an agricultural giant to an industrial power, the promotion of urbanization is urgent, Hong said.

Echoing Hong's words, Zhang Baowen, a CPPCC member, said the development of non-farming production can create more jobs for rural surplus labourers.

During the NPC and CPPCC sessions, deputies and members argued that China's accession to the World Trade Organization will put Chinese farmers in a bind as cheaper foreign agricultural products flood in.

Commenting on how Chinese agriculture will meet the challenges with China's entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Hong said China has to readjust the agricultural and rural industrial structure to increase farmers' competitiveness.

Meanwhile, Lu Ming, a CPPCC member, stressed that the government should increase investment in the application and dissemination of advanced agricultural technology to promote an environmentally-safe food industry.

Lu said restrictions on poisonous residues should include pesticides, fertilizers and heavy metals.

(China Daily March 8, 2002)

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