Early holiday rush expected

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 December, 2008, 12:00am

The Ministry of Railways yesterday unveiled a seasonal travel scheme with an extra 319 trains planned, 50 days ahead of the Lunar New Year travel peak.

This will cater to millions of unemployed migrant workers returning home early because of factory closures amid the economic turmoil.

Warning of a 'grim transport situation', railway authorities said more than 188 million people were predicted to travel by rail within a 40-day travel peak starting on January 11. Most would be migrant workers, university students and holidaymakers.

But the authorities, keen to avoid a repeat of the nationwide snarl-up caused by snowstorms in February, could be less busy this year, as many workers have said they would not have jobs to return to.

Economists are predicting that more factories will declare bankruptcies during the holiday period to avoid severance payouts, and that the huge number of laid-off workers forced to return to the countryside could cause social unrest.

The livelihoods of millions of migrant workers and their families from major labour-supplying provinces including Sichuan , Hunan , Hubei , Jiangxi and Anhui are threatened.

Hubei worker You Min , waiting for a train at Shenzhen station, said her factory, which manufactures transformers, had not received orders for the past few months, although the period before Christmas was usually a busy time. It was the first time in a decade that she had gone home this early.

Migrant workers waiting for back pay owed by collapsed factories said they did not have money for travel.

Guangxi native Nong Xiumei and her husband have had to take indefinite leave since the crisis began and have received only 100 yuan (HK$113) to cover back pay from a shoe factory in Guangzhou.

They have each been given 200 yuan by a local entrepreneur for bus tickets to travel home.

More than 2,000 frustrated migrant workers in Guangzhou, Dongguan and Shenzhen are expected to receive money from the same entrepreneur to cover travel, although he has been criticised by netizens for paying 600,000 yuan to advertise his charitable act - 200,000 yuan more than the money given out.

Migrant workers have said that regional governments should subsidise train tickets for them to have family reunions as a reward for their hard work and taxes paid in the past year. In previous years, workers had to queue for days for tickets to return home, or pay high prices to buy them from touts.

The big rush

Railway authorities have warned of a 'grim transport situation'

The number of people they predict to travel by rail within a 40-day travel peak starting on January 11 exceeds: 188m