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Status of migrant workers on agenda of National People’s Congress

Improving the situation of migrant workers in some Chinese cities where life has become too expensive, will be a major topic in the discussion of China’s National People’s Congress, which meets for ten days starting from Monday.

“Mingong” migrant workers are so-called second class citizens in China: it is still a big obstacle for them to register their children to school in the city, those kids of migrants have to return to their home province.

To qualify for medical coverage, sick migrants must return to their home region. But the Minister of Health Chen Zhu announced that by 2015, they can seek reimbursement for medical expenses in the cities where they work throughout China, reported Thursday Xinhua News Agency.

The government recently said it would reform the system of permanent residence permit, known as “hukou“, which creates a deep separation in Chinese society between urban and rural area.

These issues should feature prominently in the government report to be presented Monday by Premier Wen Jiabao at the opening of the annual session of National People’s Congress (NPC). The text sets the broad guidelines of Chinese politics each year.

“Now the biggest challenge for China is to find a balance between rich and poor, urban and rural – and during the meeting of the NPC, the government will pay close attention to this issue,” said Shi Yinhong, a political scientist at Renmin University in Beijing.

This year, it “will put more emphasis on improving the situation of migrant workers because the government knows it’s important to allow them come to town, the migrant flow creates growth,” said Mr. Shi.

Growth and social stability are the base of government’s power and the source of party’s legitimacy in China.

Last year, the government managed to control inflation and maintain social instability. Prices of consumer goods had risen in July to its highest level in three years at 6.5% annual rate, before falling to 4.1% in December.

But the export difficulties mainly due to the debt crisis in Europe have led some companies in the southern province of Guangdong, the heart of “the world’s workshop”, to cut back on wages and benefits for workers, prompting strikes in different places.

While wages in rural areas should continue to grow by 13% annually over the next four years, many SMEs in urban areas are struggling to meet the demands for wage increases and recruiting. And many migrants preferred to stay in their home province after the New Year celebrations.

Last year, the average wage of a migrant worker in China was 1,690 yuan, according to the government.

Companies also have trouble not only in recruiting mingong, but also young graduates, as the cost of living has increased in large cities, Some people who planned to find work in these cities have decided to leave. This became a problem for recruit.

Lack of labor is particularly relevant to medium-sized cities, according to Yao Yuqun, professor of human resources at Renmin University in Beijing.

It is in these cities that could come into effect a reform of the “hukou”. “In the towns of the district or at the lower level, those (migrants) who have stable jobs and housing can apply for permits to permanent residents,” explains Mr. Yao.

“The National People’s Congress should endorse the measure,” said the professor.

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