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Equalize Migrant Workers
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A series of policies are needed to properly handle the problems concerning nearly 200 million farmer-turned workers in the coming five years, a senior official from the Ministry of Construction said on Tuesday.

This coincides with the remarks by Wang Guangtao, minister of construction, last week. Wang said there would be a gradually doing away with discriminative regulations and restrictions that prohibit rural migrant workers from enjoying the same treatment and privileges in finding jobs and settling down in cities as urban residents.

The move to transfer surplus laborers from underdeveloped areas to developed regions has been confirmed to be an effective approach to narrow the disparity between these areas.

A research conducted by Fan Gang, director of the National Economics Research Institute under the China Reform Foundation, has found that rural migrant workers typically send half of the money they earn in cities back to their rural hometowns.

This has considerably raised the average income of rural residents in underdeveloped areas and contributed to the efforts to narrow the income gap between rural and urban residents.

Yet, there is potential danger that discriminative rules against these farmer-turned workers have segregated them from their urban counterparts.

They have to rent houses in poorer areas and pay extra fees to send their children to urban schools. Without access to urban social security and healthcare system, they are often reduced to the bottom of the social strata.

If this situation continues, a dualistic social structure may take shape in urban areas, in which rural migrant workers and their families will become a disadvantaged group and their later generations will have hardly any chances to climb up the social ladder.

This tendency goes against the goal of building a harmonious society and therefore must be changed.

Minister of Construction Wang said that the economic strength in urban areas is now strong enough to assimilate farmer-turned workers as equals of their urban counterparts into cities.

But much concrete work needs to be done to materialize this goal. The abolition of discriminative regulations against them is, of course, necessary, but far from enough.

Efforts from the government are required for the farmer-turned workers in cities, helping them enjoy the same opportunities and gradually admitting them into urban social security and healthcare system.

A document released by the Ministry of Health on Tuesday requiring hospitals to provide rural migrant workers with a reasonable and simple procedure of seeing doctors is as a move in the right direction.

(China Daily May 18, 2006)

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