China migrant 'underclass' emerging

Amnesty report says China's economic growth carries "terrible human cost".

    Amnesty says many migrant workers have
    their wages withheld by employers [EPA]

    "China's so-called economic 'miracle' comes at a terrible human cost"

    Catherine Baber,
    Amnesty International

    With delegates gathering in Beijing from across China for the week-long meeting, Amnesty warned that China's "so-called economic 'miracle'" is being delivered "at a terrible human cost".
     
    It says Chinese employers often exploit migrant workers' temporary residency status by withholding billions of dollars in unpaid wages, typically owing them two to three months backwages.
     
    Catherine Baber, Amnesty's deputy Asia Pacific director, said China's tight rules on residency provided "a regulatory and administrative foundation for discrimination against internal migrant workers."
     
    In recent years an estimated 150-200 m rural migrants have moved to China's cities where their low-cost labor has helped fuel China's breakneck economic growth.
     
    Dangerous
     

    Migrant workers are often only employed in
    dangerous jobs, the report says [GALLO/GETTY]


    Amnesty says that behind the impressive growth figures, migrant labour is used to perform the lowest-paid and most dangerous jobs.
     
    A widespread lack of labour contracts leaves migrant workers with little legal recourse in disputes with employers, the report says.
     
    It quotes Wang Yuancheng, an internal migrant who became a successful businessman, detailing the miserable lives many workers were forced to lead.
     
    "They have to live in makeshift shelters, eat the cheapest bean curd and cabbage. They have no insurance and their wages are often delayed.
     
    "And most of all, they are discriminated against by urban people," Wang is quoted as saying.
     
    Wealth gap
     
    China's premier, Wen Jinbao, is expected to put social justice and closing China's growing wealth gap top of the reform agenda when he open the National People's Congress on Monday.
     
    "All government departments must be highly attentive to the problems concerning the people's daily lives," state-run press quoted Wen as saying last month.
     
    "The government must improve social welfare work and ensure the basic necessities for people in poverty."
     
    Government officials said Wen would insist that the environment and people's welfare were not sacrificed for profits and growth, and work to improve the country's legal system.
     
    Wen and Hu Jintao, China's president, have been championing the vision of a "harmonious society" in recent years but critics say that without clear policies it remains little more than an abstract concept.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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