The Ministry of Labor and Social Security said priority will be given this year to giving workers' compensation insurance to millions of migrant workers in construction, mining and other sectors where employees are at higher risk of being injured on the job.
The practice, to protect migrant workers' rights, will be expanded to all sectors in the future.
Chen Gang, a departmental director of the ministry, said the government's efforts to expand an occupational injury insurance system will offer laborers or their kin fair compensation if they are injured or killed while working.
Chen said migrant workers who suffer job-related injuries in those sectors often find themselves in a hopeless position when their employers refused to pay compensation for severe injury, disease or loss of life.
Employers will be expected to pay workers' compensation premiums and tell their employees about the policy.
The insurance will cover various types of injuries, including casualties suffered during business trips, vehicle accident injuries occurring on the way to or back from work, as well as injuries incurred during emergency operations undertaken to protect state or public interests.
He said all employers in the designated sectors will be required to buy the insurance for farmers-turned-employees if they signed labor contracts, or face punishment.
Zhu Changyou, a labor expert with the Beijing Bureau of International Labor Organizations, praised the move to protect the rights and interests of underprivileged migrant workers.
Together with existing measures -- such as pensions, medical insurance, maternity insurance and unemployment insurance -- the new workers' compensation insurance is expected to help create a more reliable working environment and better protect residents' interests, Zhu said.
Official reports indicate that there are now 130 million migrant workers in Chinese cities, almost equivalent to half the population of the United States.
This means that the country has more migrant than stationary workers, and that they constitute the main industrial workforce. This is a reversal of the situation that existed two decades ago.
"A comprehensive social security system will play an important role in strengthening China's economic development, maintaining social stability and protecting workers' rights," said Zhu.
The issue has become extremely important as job-related accidents claim more than 100,000 lives in China every year and injure several hundred thousand people.
Wang Xianzheng, director of the State Administration for Safe Production Supervision, said the trend was worsening as the numbers of China's occupational accidents have soared in recent years.
"The new system will be a much fairer and more effective way for employees and employers to deal with health hazards," said Wang.
The new system, which was started in the late 1990s on a trial basis in several cities, now covers a total of 45 million employees nationwide.
"But it is far from our goal, which is to cover all the employees in the country," said Wang.
Wang said commercial insurance services, including foreign companies, could also be allowed to join the queue for a stake in the industrial injury market.
(China Daily July 26, 2004)