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Open Door to Farmers

The All-China Federation of Trade Unions' (ACFTU) decision to welcome urban peasant workers into its ranks is encouraging news, but relevant structures and policies have yet to be mapped out to make this disadvantaged group really equal to urban citizens, said an article in People's Daily. An excerpt follows:

The ACFTU, whose main purpose is to protect workers' legal rights and interests, recently made it clear that farmers working in cities can join its branches, whose membership, however, was previously open only to urban workers.

This is a timely and much-needed move.

Since the end of last year, there have been widespread and serious concerns in society about peasant workers' poor working conditions, lack of social security protection and serious wage arrears.

Despite measures recently taken by some regions to improve peasant workers' interests, such as the improvement of their housing and food situations, this is still not enough.

The influx of farmers into urban areas started in the early 1980s when the government began to ease restrictions upon them moving into the cities.

Statistics show that cities and towns have absorbed about 130 million farmers over the past 10 years.

These labour forces have gradually become the main players in some industries, replacing urban residents.

They have made a great contribution to China's low-cost economic operation in labour-intensive industries.

More importantly, these farmers have already become a newly emerging force in balancing the gap between China's east and west, and between urban and rural areas.

However, society has not provided this historically disadvantaged group with enough care or attention.

The country should lay down according systems and policies to match new situations and new changes.

But the work which has already taken place in this regard is not enough.

For example, huge divides remain between peasant workers and their urban counterparts in various aspects, such as employment, medical care, housing and schooling.

Besides, the State has not so far established a special government body to co-ordinate peasant workers' affairs and serve their fundamental interests.

The decision to absorb peasant workers into trade unions, however, will signal an important measure to protect and improve their rights and interests.

In the long-term view, some systems and policies are yet to be reformed and passed to continuously consolidate peasant workers' status in cities, and finally erase the label of "peasant workers."

(China Daily HK Edition September 16, 2003)

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