The recent surge in industrial unrest in China is due in part to a growing awareness of workers' rights in the country, observers say. The internet, in tandem with a surprisingly activist press, is giving Chinese workers unprecedented access to information about wages, benefits and work rules. The presence of multinational corporations is also helping to raise expectations. 'Labour unrest has been around in China for some time, but the frequency has been increasing in the past three years, particularly this year,' said Liu Kaiming, executive director of the Institute of Contemporary Observation, a non-government organisation focused on migrant workers. The central government, too, appears keen to ensure its urban working class political base gets its fair share of the country's newfound prosperity - and equally eager to prevent labour tensions from manifesting themselves as general social unrest. Workers who lead protests and strikes still do so at great risk of prosecution. But Beijing now publicly acknowledges that millions of Chinese workers are underpaid, overworked or otherwise exploited. National television network CCTV began broadcasting regular programmes on labour laws and fair labour practices a few months ago. Some newspapers have also reported on poor working conditions and labour disputes at mainland factories. 'The workers are smarter than before. They know their rights,' said Wandy Lau Suk-kwan, assistant general manager at a factory of the TAL Group in Dongguan. Last month, the Ministry of Work and Social Security announced a five-point doctrine for improving employment conditions for migrant workers in urban areas. First, the government will eliminate restrictions on companies employing migrant workers. Second, public job agencies will be opened to migrant workers. Third, labour in the countryside will be included in government training programmes. Fourth, the government and private sector will jointly provide job information for migrant workers. Fifth, job training centres will be set up in poorer regions. Multinationals are also playing a role in spreading awareness of workers' rights in China. Some now conducted courses in work safety and labour laws in the factories of their suppliers, said Stephen Frost, a research fellow at the City University of Hong Kong. Mr Liu said: 'Overall, I'm optimistic. China is improving, as there is more open discussion and greater awareness by the public and government about labour problems.' But he acknowledged there is a long way to go before China's workers get a fair shake.