Criticism over China's slow progress in granting rights to migrants

The government is too slow in granting relocated migrant workers the benefits that come with city living, top researchers say

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 July, 2013, 7:42pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 July, 2013, 10:46am

The mainland's actual urbanisation rate is far lower than the official figure as many migrant workers are still denied the rights and benefits enjoyed by urban residents, the Academy of Social Sciences has said.

In its annual report on the subject, the academy delivered veiled criticism of the government's progress in granting resettled migrant workers the political rights, social welfare, living status and education that came with city living.

As of last year, about a third of city-dwellers were relocated migrants, but only 40 per cent of them enjoyed key rights and benefits, it said. The academy put the mainland's true rate of urbanisation at 42 per cent, 10 percentage points lower than the official figure.

About 390 million people are expected to move from the countryside to cities by 2030, the report said. It's "a difficult, long-term task but within the government's power".

The academy's research showed the government would have to spend 130,000 yuan (HK$163,300) on the process of turning each migrant worker into an urban resident, the report said. About 26,000 yuan would be short-term expenditure, and that alone translated into 650 billion yuan, or 5.5 per cent of last year's national public revenue. From the perspective of fiscal spending, it's feasible for the government to oversee the transition of all migrant workers into urban residents by 2025, it said.

Chen Wenling , a researcher at the State Council's Research Office, said that no matter what the cost, the government must pay for urbanisation. "One cost lies in equalising public services for all people, including medical insurance, pension, social relief and so on," she said at an academy seminar yesterday.

Another lies in the construction of infrastructure and housing. In the past, many migrant workers who arrived in a city for a construction job would live at the site or at slums that hadn't been torn down, she said.

The report suggested that by 2015, the government should issue residence permits to all urban residents, making sure that migrant workers enjoyed the city's basic public services and be eligible for at least parts of its social welfare system. By 2020, all citizens, regardless of where their permanent residence was registered, should enjoy all public services and social welfare in the place where they lived.

Chen Huai , former director of the policy research centre of the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, feared cities would not be able to provide enough jobs for the influx of migrant workers.

"We are facing a process of replacing labour-intensive industries with technology - intensive ones. We are also seeing some heavy industries using robots to replace humans," he told the seminar.

Li Yang , the academy's deputy head, said farmland should not be sacrificed for urbanisation.

"We're sorry to see that in most places, urbanisation is fighting with farming for land - rich, arable land," he said. "If urbanisation is covering arable land with cement and steel bars, we'd rather give the process up."