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UPDATED: July 9, 2010 NO. 28 JULY 15, 2010
Floating Life
Growth of the floating population presents challenges to host cities

REAL HOMES: A staff worker at Gao- qiao Police Station in Changsha, Hunan Province, helps floating populations apply for residence permits on March 30 (ZHAO ZHONGZHI)

One in six people in China have left their hometown in search of a better life and the number continues to grow, creating a challenge for host cities, according to a government report.

The floating population, or people who live and work outside their permanent home, reached 211 million last year and the number could reach 350 million by 2050 if government policies remain unchanged, said the Report on the Development of China's Floating Population issued on June 26 by the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC).

In China, although the number of long-distance migrants decreased in 2009, as a result of a weakened demand for labor caused by the financial crisis, the long-term overall tendency of people moving to eastern coastal areas from the backward western regions will not change, the report said.

Right to pay

The report said most migrant workers come from the countryside and usually end up with low-paying and high-risk jobs in the manufacturing, wholesale, retail and social service sectors. Meanwhile, they lack information about how to protect their rights and interests, said the report.

Li Zhiwu is a 23-year-old senior high school graduate from central China's Henan Province and now works at a small insurance company as a salesman in Beijing.

According to him, he must work more than 10 hours every day without weekends to earn 2,000 yuan ($292.8) a month.

"I have to work that hard every day because there is a certain workload required by the company. If I fail to reach the requirement, the company will reduce my salary," Li said. And what is worse, he does not have any contract with the company.

According to the NPFPC's report, most migrant workers work more than 58 hours per week but less than 30 percent have a working contract.

According to the Labor Supervision Department of the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Human Resource and Social Security, contract violations involving mainly migrant workers surged to 3,207 cases in Beijing in 2009, a 22-percent jump from the previous year.

Wang Fang, Director of the Zhicheng Legal Aid and Research Center for Migrant Workers, said that the absence of a contract was a problem when the center tried to help migrants claim their back pay.

Without a working contract, Li could not get any social or medical insurance. The report showed that 39 percent of migrant workers have no social benefits or medical insurance.

In essence, their poor educational background holds back migrant workers' development.

According to Li, he often thinks about abandoning his present job and finding a better one with a higher salary but he found it was very hard for him because of a lack of skills.

In May, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security vowed to train 120 million unskilled migrant workers within five years by taking a variety of measures including offering subsidies to employers.

"There is a pretty clear mismatch in the nation's labor market," said Zhang Juwei, Director of the Labor and Social Security Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"Many businesses can't find workers but, at the same time, many people can't find jobs either," he told Xinhua News Agency.

He said giving migrant workers more practical training would be an effective solution to the problem of unemployment and reduce employer labor costs.

In January, the State Council, China's cabinet, ordered relevant departments to draw up renewed training plans and build a system of subsidies to improve migrant workers' skills. Meanwhile, it said that training funds would be managed at provincial levels.

"We will explore the possibility of direct subsidies to employers and incentives for training institutions to fill in the supply and demand gap," said Yang Zhiming, Vice Minister of Human Resources and Social Security.

He said the government would make sure every migrant worker gets training more than once by 2015.

Right to move

The report said more families within the country moved to other places and chose to settle their homes there, causing more pressure on the government to reform its management and service policies for the migrant population in order to ensure their livelihood.

"Due to China's unique institution of hukou, or permanent residence permit, the colossal mobile population has almost become a third sector in addition to the rural and urban populations," said Zhai Zhenwu, Director of the School of Population and Sociological Studies at Renmin University of China.

China has to assure migrant workers of their equal rights for public services regardless of their hukou status, he told Xinhua.

Currently, migrant workers who have toiled in cities for years are still not entitled to the same rights as their urban counterparts, including reproductive health and family planning services, social welfare programs such as work injury insurance, and access to local education resources for children, Zhai said.

In response, the commission set up a floating population service and management department in 2008 to help the migrants mingle into the society of their residence and gradually enjoy the same rights as locals.

On April 28, in a report on protecting migrant rural workers' interests, Human Resources and Social Security Vice Minister Yang said that the country will step up efforts to improve social services for migrant workers and relevant efforts would be listed in the next five-year plan.

The ministry plans to increase the coverage of labor contracts for migrant rural workers, improve their working conditions and realize the portability of old-age insurance for them, according to Yang.

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