Millions of Chinese migrant workers and their children will benefit from an ambitious training program and education policy by the Chinese central government.
"I have slept here for three days, but no progress has been made in finding a job," said Zhang Xiaozhu who came from central China's Henan province, wearing a dirty jacket in an underpass near Beijing's west railway station.
The emergence of the huge migrant worker army since the 1980s has literally broken China's traditional worker-farmer social divide and grown into a new force who labor in both urban and rural areas.
Because of a lack of skills, the "floating population" like Zhang face hard competition in job markets. The lucky ones, who find jobs in cities, usually do the hardest, dirtiest and lowest- paid work.
"The economic imbalance between rural and urban areas provided different education opportunities to rural and urban residents, which resulted in a huge gap of knowledge and skills between urban and migrant workers, " said Lu Xueyi, professor of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
According to statistics, the average education term of rural residents is 7.33 years compared with 10.20 for urban residents. Among migrant workers who entered cities in 2001, only 18.6 percent had received professional training.
Lu said the huge imbalance between rural and urban areas has slowed down economic growth and will seriously block China's development.
The central government is launching an ambitious plan to offer training to its big contingent of migrant workers to help with their employment.
According to a circular issued by the State Council, China's cabinet, during the next seven years, about 70 million migrant workers will receive basic training and many will receive additional professional training.
The basic training is expected to inform potential migrant workers of the basics, including safeguarding their rights and interests, knowledge of laws and regulations, common knowledge of life in cities, and job-hunting skills.
The professional training will focus on sectors like housekeeping services, restaurant business, hotel service, health care, construction and manufacturing.
In order to ensure the success of the training plan, special funds will be allotted for this end by both the central government and local governments at all levels. The work units are obliged to offer training to migrant workers they employ, and 1.5 percent of workers' salary will be used as training expense, which can be deducted from their taxable income.
"This shows that providing equal opportunities has been treated as the breakthrough point of solving the imbalance, which is significant to promoting social justice," said Lu.
Children of migrant workers will receive the same education opportunities as urban children, according to the new circular by the State Council.
The circular said that urban public-funded schools should be opened to migrant workers' children and education authorities in various regions should include migrant children in their nine-year compulsory educational program.
In addition, China's central government issued a notification giving instructions on a nationwide project aiming to provide constant financial assistance to students from poor families.
"These efforts reveal the development view of the new government. The core of the view is harmony, which focuses on solving the imbalance between rural and urban areas," said Wang Dongjing, professor of the Party School of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.
With implementation of these policies, millions of migrant workers like Zhang Xiaozhu will change their fates, said Wang.
(China Daily October 2, 2003)