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Let Workers Have Voice

In order to provide substantial help to migrant workers it is necessary to let them express their own opinions in public, according to an article in Workers' Daily. An excerpt follows:

As more attention is paid to rural issues, the rights and interests of migrant workers in cities and towns are also in the spotlight.

Several migrant workers were invited to participate in a recent conference on workplace security and the health of migrant workers. But when they began expressing their views, most of the officials and experts in attendance walked out, which was both embarrassing and rude.

One of the workers, Chen Mao, said: "Our presence here is already an expression." That remark underlined his regret for the absence of farmers in almost every discussion about their rights and interests.

In terms of law and economics, a fair system can only come about as the result of thorough negotiation among all interested parties.

If migrant workers are shut out of conferences about their interests, the outcome of the discussions will likely be impracticable or even prejudiced.

Maybe migrant workers won't contribute substantial or major opinions, but their presence at least indicates the fairness of the procedure.

As a disadvantaged group, migrant workers have very limited room to express their point of view. If they cannot speak out in public, their real thoughts cannot reach the decision makers or the social elites. Cooperation between different social groups is thus hampered and the social balance becomes more difficult to maintain.

More importantly, when migrant workers do not have available resources to speak out, they might resort to other means as a channel of expression.

When they are unable to protect their own interests under the legal framework, they sometimes take extreme actions, like jumping from mansions, kidnapping or loafing on the job.

To understand the logic in those actions, we should try to see the world through their eyes.

Inviting migrant workers to conferences and asking them to speak is a ground-breaking step to help them voice their opinions.

But to let those voices become strong enough to influence the decision makers, it is necessary for them to have the right to speak out in society.

(China Daily July 9, 2004)

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