Workers laid off from state factories in Inner Mongolia are stealing pig feed to eat and selling blood to pay for their children's education, according to an NPC delegate from the region. The plight of the urban poor has been one of the biggest topics at the NPC, and the official press has started to describe it in more dramatic terms than ever before, saying that some people have no income and nothing to eat. In a story on the hunger and hopelessness faced by laid-off workers, the China Economic Times yesterday quoted NPC delegate Kong Linghong, from Inner Mongolia, as describing their plight as desperate. According to figures from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, in the first quarter of 2000 there were 21.38 million laid-off workers, of whom nearly nine million will by June have cut ties with their original work units. This is a drastic step because it means that their former employers are released from any financial obligation towards them. A survey by the China National Economic Research Centre of laid-off workers in 10 cities found that 57 per cent were owed an average of 3,624 yuan (HK$3,406) by their employers, including wages, pensions and medical benefits, and that the employers were unable to pay them a lump sum to help them make a new start. Yao Jianting, a member of the CPPCC from Harbin, Heilongjiang, said that laid-off workers in Harbin were owed 600 million yuan in wages as well as 156 million yuan in pensions and social welfare benefits. He cited the example of the Harbin Wool Spinning Mill. Of its workforce, 85 per cent or 2,641 people have been laid off and sent to re-employment centres. But the workers refuse to take new jobs until they are given 18.8 million yuan in redundancy pay - which the factory does not have. No one answered the telephone at the mill. A security guard at a Beijing factory owned by the mill said that it originally had 5,000 workers but had stopped production about eight years ago. According to ministry figures, less than 10 per cent of unemployed people at re-employment centres find work. The figures show that 49 per cent of laid-off workers have education only up to junior middle school, 68 per cent are over 35 and most have a low level of technical skill. Mr Yao said many of them could not find work and found it hard to survive. The level of 200 yuan a month basic living allowance was too low. Lu Chuanzan, another CPPCC member, said the NPC urgently needed to pass a Social Welfare Law, Labour Contract Law and Wage Law to protect the interests of the worker.