The political rights of China's 120 million migrant workers have been violated, the minister of civil affairs has admitted. In an interview with Xinhua, Doje Cering said that existing laws had virtually excluded these people from taking part in politics because they were unable to stand in elections or vote. Only people who hold valid local residency permits are allowed to take part in elections. Quoting academic studies, Xinhua estimated the nation's transient population at 120 million people, 40 million of whom live outside their home provinces. Most of these people are migrant workers who toil day and night in sweatshop-type factories in China's coastal provinces. Attracted by the relatively high wages in Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangsu and Zhejiang, many rural people flock to find work, despite the harsh conditions. Labour watchdogs have long criticised the government for not doing more to address the problems of migrant workers. They have warned that their treatment is unfair and often against the law, and that the workers are denied the opportunity to take part in politics. 'Some of these migrants live in one place for several years, sometimes more than 10, but they still do not enjoy local residency rights,' Mr Doje Cering was quoted as saying. 'They are unable to exercise their democratic rights.' Although the minister said the central government attached great importance to the issue, he did not promise any immediate remedies except saying the issue needed further study. Local residency rights would not only allow migrant workers the opportunity to vote but also grant them access to basic civil benefits such as education and medical care. At present, migrant workers often have to pay hefty fees to send their children to local schools or leave their children behind in their home towns where they are entitled to free education. Mr Doje Cering was not the only member of the NPC to raise the issue. Wang Jun, a former vice-chairman of the people's congress in Guangdong province, also criticised the government for failing to resolve the problem. Speaking at a panel discussion yesterday, Mr Wang called the problem a 'serious loophole' in existing laws. 'It effectively deprives migrant workers of their electoral right,' he said. Mr Wang said there were more than 10 million migrant workers in Guangdong, only one of whom was a deputy to this year's NPC. 'The problem is not exclusive to Guangdong province,' Mr Wang said. 'I learned that there are about 120 million migrants in the whole country.' He called for a review of the electoral laws to give fairer treatment to the migrant population.