Ultimatum on migrant worker fees
Vivien Pik-Kwan Chan
The central Government has issued an ultimatum to provincial authorities to immediately return fees illegally charged to migrant workers or face severe punishment.
The State Development Planning Commission issued a decree in October stating all provinces should phase out the decade-old charges levied on migrant workers and temporary residents, including fees for temporary residence permits. It also stipulated that the only charge allowed was the cost of the permits, which should not exceed five yuan (HK$4.70) per card.
The urgent circular, issued by the commission yesterday, was a rare admission by Beijing that its orders are being ignored.
Leaders fear social instability if migrant workers are burdened with fees or if levies force peasants from their fields to find a living in urban areas.
The ultimatum yesterday demanded that local governments stop charging illegal fees and immediately return the money to migrant workers from fees charged after March 1, the deadline announced in October for phasing out the fees.
It also said fees 'pre-charged' to get around the deadline should be returned to workers within three months.
It said money that could not be returned would be confiscated by the central Treasury. And it warned that local government officials disobeying the ban would be severely penalised.
Yet labour rights groups doubted if central departments could effectively supervise grassroots governments to implement the ban.
Officials of the planning commission said the directive aimed to cut the financial burden of the country's 200 million migrant workers by 4.85 billion yuan (HK$4.57 billion) a year, with a view to narrowing the income gap between urban and rural workers.
The commission said local governments were bending the rules - tacking the banned fees on to water and refuse-collection charges so they could continue to extract money from the migrant workers.
'Grassroots residential committee officials have also charged migrant workers heavily who applied for referral letters and certified documents,' an official said.
Shenzhen is one of the local city governments which is reluctant to scrap administrative fees levied on migrant workers. The city has a floating population of more than four million, more than half of all residents.
Shenzhen government officials argue that the city has invested huge amounts to maintain social order, cope with growing traffic and monitor health standards amid the growing influx of migrant workers.
They believe the central Government should bear some of the costs and losses incurred as a result of Beijing's directive to ban temporary residents' fees.
The officials said Shenzhen would lose more than one billion yuan in annual income and could not meet the new standard.