The State Council's new call to increase protection of migrant workers' rights is all-inclusive and of far-reaching significance. Better protection of migrant workers will not only facilitate the construction of a new countryside but also help realize social harmony across the country.
The call has touched on almost every aspect where government efforts are badly needed to guarantee fair treatment for farmers-turned-workers.
However, given the size of this new-type labor force, it would be overly optimistic to expect all the goals the central government has set to be achieved in the short term.
About 130 million rural laborers have found jobs in cities, making up almost half of the workforce in China's secondary and tertiary industries. And more of them will flow to urban areas as the country's industrialization and urbanization continue in coming years.
It will take a fairly long period before cities can get fully prepared to accommodate all these newcomers in the same way as their urban counterparts.
Currently, a wide lack of equal access to education, health and social security resources in urban areas has made life unjustly difficult for migrant workers.
However, one of the most long-standing problems default on wage payments can now hopefully be solved once and for all.
Unlike all the previous year-end campaigns the government launched to crack down on this malpractice to ensure migrant workers would not go home empty-handed, the latest government call includes a detailed scheme to prevent this problem.
According to the new document issued by the State Council concerning migrant workers, a wage payment supervision system and a wage deposit system should be established to solve the issues of defaulting on, or cutting, wages to migrant workers. Employers with records of defaulting or those doing major projects are obliged to open special wage deposit accounts as a precaution against this.
If promptly implemented, this improvement in supervision will enable the government to find and fine those wrongdoers who force migrant workers to resign themselves to delayed or reduced payment.
Of all the legal rights farmers-turned-workers are entitled to, the right for them to earn a decent wage is one of the most basic.
Only when they are paid in a full and timely manner can migrant workers possibly obtain the needed financial independence to improve, no matter how marginally or slowly, their living conditions both in cities and in their rural homes.
Some employers have abused their advantages over migrant workers, who are usually left exposed to the country's seemingly unlimited supply of low-skill labor.
But now the government has made it clear that default on wage payment will come at a cost. The supervision system will put such employers under close scrutiny and shield migrant workers from abuses.
Compared to other tasks like the removal of the out-dated household registration system that restricts the flow of rural residents to urban areas, complete and timely wage payment may appear easy to fulfill.
Yet, to safeguard migrant workers' rights, it is important to deliver the promise as soon as possible. The State Council's call to ensure wage payment on time is a good start.
(China Daily March 29, 2006)