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Free Legal Aid for Migrant Workers
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Breaking his tarsal bones at a construction site wasn't bad enough for Tong Jingang because of what he was to encounter later.

The contractor not only refused to pay him any compensation, but also denied ever having employed him.

"They said I had never worked for them," says the 41-year-old Tong, a migrant worker from Hebei Province.

He still cannot stand upright. Worse still, he will never be able to do any heavy labor job.

"I went to Beijing more than 20 times. But nothing happened," says the father of two daughters.

And then he sought the help of the Working Station of the Beijing Legal Aid Services, where lawyers offer free help to migrant workers.

The result: After the arbitration Tong is expected to get 100,000 yuan (US$12,800) in compensation by June.

Tong is one of the about 125,000 migrant workers who got free legal help last year. The figure is 65 percent higher than that of 2005.

Apart from the migrant workers, 540,000 people across the country got free legal help last year, an increase of 24.5 percent over 2005.

Increasing government contribution to the legal aid centers has enabled more lawyers to offer free services to the disadvantaged people, says the 2006 work report of the China Legal Aid Centre of the Ministry of Justice.

Legal aid funds increased 32 percent to 370 million yuan (US$47.4 million) in 2006. About 90.4 percent of the funds came from the government. Which means the government increased its contribution by 27.7 percent to 334.7 million yuan (US$42.9 million).

"The growth shows that the government is committed to implementing its policy of helping the disadvantaged," said Jia Wuguang, director of China Legal Aid Center. "More free access to legal aid is the best way of addressing the issue."

Earlier, only a migrant worker living under the poverty line could avail of the free services. But now the criteria are less rigid.

"As long as a person is a migrant worker, he can get free legal service to seek compensation for injuries at or demand payment of salary arrears," Jia said.

But the existing legal aid services are still not enough to meet the mounting demand of the disadvantaged people, say legal professionals.

"We dealt with about 1,000 cases last year. But there are thousands of migrant workers out there (who need help)," said Chen Xing, a lawyer at Beijing Legal Aid Service working station.

(China Daily February 6, 2007)

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