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Living on the Edge

The China Urban Labor Employment and Labor Flow research team have conducted a survey, which reveals that 50 percent of the floating rural population want to stay in cities, while less than 10 percent would prefer to return home.

As far as urban dwellers are concerned, migrant workers do not belong in the cities even if they are prosperous. Li Cheng is still hurt by the derogatory remarks made by city dwellers about his background. "We can never enjoy the same rights as urban citizens. The word 'farmer' is used to mean a poorly-educated person with outdated concepts and little awareness of hygiene," says Li.

Migrant workers take on the heavy, dirty work disdained by their urban counterparts, and even when there are rural and urban workers on the same job, they do not reap the same benefits. Rural workers get no insurance, subsidies or social security, and have to pay a high entrance fee when sending their children to school. The worst aspect of their situation is the unfair treatment they are subjected to, like working overtime with no pay, and being chosen to do dangerous work with no protective clothing or equipment. If they fall ill, or get injured to the extent of disablement, they are simply fired.

Legal experts say that the present system makes it difficult for migrant workers to enjoy their civil rights in cities, as urban social organizational systems are not open to them and they are constrained by discriminatory local laws and regulations.

"I like the skyscrapers, shopping malls, the hustle and bustle of city life," says 26-year-old Yan'er from Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Having worked in Shenzhen for eight years, she is reluctant to leave. But Yan'er does find city life hard because of the fierce competition which dictates that 18-25 is the most desirable age group for employment, outside of which there are few opportunities. A considerable number of migrant workers are reluctant to return to their home provinces, but few gain a foothold in the city due to a lack of professional skills.

(Shenzhen Daily August 25, 2004)

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