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Migrant Workers Invited to Session of Legislature in Shanghai
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Xu Hanxiang and Shen Houping, both from neighboring Jiangsu Province, observed on Sunday an annual session of the 12th Municipal People's Congress of Shanghai, or the local legislature, as representatives of the 3.75 million rural migrant workers in this east China metropolis.

This was the first time for the migrant workers in the city to be invited to a conference of the local lawmakers.

Xu, 42, has been working in Shanghai for eight years and now serves as chairman of the trade union in Shanghai Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding Co Ltd..

Xu arrived at the convention hall of the local legislature one hour and a half ahead of time.

"In my trade union alone, there are more than 800 migrant workers," said Xu. "My presence at today's meeting signifies the city's recognition of our contributions, as well as the local authorities' concerns about us."

Addressing the opening meeting, City Mayor Han Zheng pledged that in the next five years, Shanghai would make insurance services available for more rural migrant workers and also take other measures to better safeguard their legitimate rights and interests.

Though the rural migrant workers have been playing a vital role in local construction and development of Shanghai, their social and political status remains relatively low.

To change the situation, the city government in recent years has promulgated a series of policies to address such outstanding problems as salary default, industrial injury insurance and education for migrant workers' children.

Shen, the other migrant worker observer, is now a sanitary vehicle repairman with the environment and sanitation bureau of Shanghai's Zhabei District. Though they have been working in the city for nine years, Shen and his wife still have to live in a rented room.

Shen said his top concern was how Shanghai would help the rural migrant workers become better educated and trained. "Only when a person becomes well-educated and quite competent could he or she manage to settle down well in Shanghai," he said.

The ongoing annual session of the Shanghai city legislature was the most prominent political event the 30-year-old Shen has ever experienced. He admitted that he actually had no idea of what he should do as an observer of the meeting. "But I really felt the respect I had been given," he said.

Professor Pu Xingzu, an expert on China's political structure with the prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai, said that Shanghai was actually not the first Chinese city to invite the migrant workers to observe a local legislature conference. Nevertheless, such a move, taken for the first time in China's largest metropolis, convincingly showcases the country's efforts to narrow the gap between urban and rural areas, said Pu.

"Inviting the rural migrant workers to observe the meeting is only the first step," said Wang Zongyan, a spokesperson of the Shanghai city legislature.

"The migrant workers shall have the same rights as the local residents in terms of their participation in the management of municipal affairs. In the future, they will have more channels to advance their opinions and proposals," Wang added.

(Xinhua News Agency January 17, 2006)

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