With the number of migrant workers rising and their financial and welfare situation poor, policymakers must address the problem to maintain social stability, experts warned after a new report on their situation.
About 17 per cent of the population, or 230 million people, are migrants, and 80 per cent are from rural areas, according to Xinhua, which cited a report by the National Population and Family Planning Commission. Their average age is 28, and 45 per cent were born after 1980.
The report said the average monthly pay for migrants under 35 was only 2,513 yuan (HK$3,080) last year. Although this is 29.4 per cent more than in 2009, it is not enough to cover housing and health care for migrants as the cost of living steadily rises.
Professor Liu Erduo , from Renmin University's School of Labour and Human Resources, said that regardless of the nation's economic situation, migration from rural to urban areas would continue, and migrants would become the backbone of cities in the next decade. It was therefore imperative their welfare be considered, to avoid social unrest and realise equality.
'Policies for housing, social security and especially education should factor in the vast population of migrants or it will be unfavourable to social stability,' Liu said.
The report said less than 30 per cent of migrants had access to basic social benefits, including medical insurance, pensions and unemployment benefits.
'If the problems regarding basic social security for these migrants are not addressed, China will be in big trouble in 10 years,' said a professor with the China Institute of Industrial Relations in Beijing, who declined to be named.
As basic social insurance schemes are usually paid for by employers and employees, bosses are often happy to simply give their workers a pay rise of say 300 yuan instead of paying 900 yuan for insurance. And the professor noted that many migrant workers were not protected by employment contracts.
The report said half of migrant workers did not have fixed-term contracts and they worked an average of 54.6 hours a week without overtime pay, even though the law states overtime should be paid beyond 40 hours.
It said the urbanisation rate was expected to reach 60 per cent by 2020, with 10 million to 13 million rural labourers added to the urban population each year.
Professor Liu said inequalities in education should be eliminated to give immigrants and locals a fair shot at competing for a good education, which was generally centred in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.