Trade union chiefs are stepping up efforts to prevent female migrant workers from being overworked, and suffering from occupational diseases and sexual harassment.
Huang Yanrong, vice-chair of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), said they are trying to bring more migrant workers, especially women, under the umbrella of her organization.
"Female workers from rural regions are the priority protection targets as their situation in cities are still giving cause for concern, said Huang, whose organization's priority since 2004 has been to organize migrant workers and protect them.
About 10 million of the 140 million migrant workers, which were dubbed last year as China's "vulnerable group" by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), are with trade unions.
Huang's federation has decided to ensure another 6 million become members by the end of the year.
"Female migrants are important potential members," said Huang.
The federation said legal rights of female migrants have often been infringed upon.
China's laws stipulate that employers should sign labor contracts with employees and their pay should be decided based on negotiation.
However, surveys in different cities have shown that most employers did not obey the regulations when hiring rural women.
Trade unions in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province found that 60 percent of female migrants who were questioned in the provincial capital Harbin did not sign labor contacts with their employers last year. The survey also showed that 62 percent of them suffered wage defaults.
About 653,000 migrants were working in the city last year, and 35 percent of them were women.
"Infringement even goes as far as sexual harassment," said Han Huimin, a social worker who runs the Beijing-based Women Migrants' Club.
But she said it was difficult to bring those women, especially those working in domestic services, into trade unions as they were often on the move to different areas.
Her organization carried out a survey during 2003-05 in Beijing that found that migrant female workers changed their work locations every six months. Han said: "Their frequent changes make it difficult for them to become a member of local trade unions."
(China Daily February 22, 2006)