Beijing has vowed to punish employers who fail to settle the wages of rural migrants before the Lunar New Year after a number of suicide attempts by unpaid workers. In a major policy shift, the authorities have launched a massive propaganda campaign to expose the plight of the migrants in cities. The campaign is aimed partly at assuaging the discontent of migrant workers during the holiday period. More importantly, it is a prelude to a likely policy shake-up aimed at encouraging the rural population to work in cities. But policymakers are aware that such a policy could pose a severe threat to social stability if the rural workers are not treated fairly, and a delicate balancing act is required amid heightening tensions between the migrants and urban residents. For the first time in China's media history, reports about migrant workers threatening to jump from rooftops and cranes on construction sites if their salaries are not paid have appeared in newspapers almost daily. Such threats have become common and are probably the most effective way for workers to force the authorities to intervene and demand back pay from their employers before they return to their villages for the holidays. It is a common practice for employers to delay payments of migrant workers' salaries for six months or even a year until the Lunar New Year. But according to media reports, in many cases employers have refused to pay at all, or only given workers a faction of their salaries, using excuses such as bad corporate performance. Migrant workers are generally treated as second-class citizens and have little bargaining power with their employers, who often hire them without proper contracts. One mainland analyst said: 'There is a joke among migrant workers that the best ways to get paid are: sitting on the rooftop, climbing up to a crane, or beating up the sub-contractors.' In a rare exposure by the state media, the Information Times has reported that the railway authorities have been put on high alert because in the past many workers who have gone home empty-handed have committed suicide by jumping from trains. However, what is even more alarming to the authorities is what happened in Huangping county, Guizhou, last Tuesday. Peng Shuiyang, a 23-year-old migrant worker returning home, stabbed 28 people, killing at least five. Such grievances illustrate the psychological pressure endured by migrant workers, who are now estimated to number 100 million. 'It is clear that although a revolution is very unlikely, incidents like that will erupt more often if the government does not deal with the burning issue of migrant workers' rights,' the analyst said. A circular issued by the State Council last week marked the start of a policy shift by the government to address the problem. The circular acknowledged rural-urban migration as an inevitable social trend and ordered local governments to scrap restrictions on the workers. It also stipulated that their rights be protected. The next step will be to encourage migrant workers to travel to cities to speed up urbanisation. But the government faces a hard task in ensuring this process is carried out at the right pace.