CHINA> Focus
Xinjiang's migrant workers take job offers on free will
Updated: 2009-07-19 15:34

URUMQI/SHAOGUAN, Xinjiang/Guangdong: Stories of success encouraged Ayizemuguli Maimaiti to leave her home in Xinjiang's Shufu County to join the army of migrant workers heading to China's coastal east in May.

"Many people took money home, and told us interesting stories, which we only saw on TV. I was curious so I decided to try my luck," said the 21-year-old Uygur woman, who works in a toy factory in Shaoguan City, south China's Guangdong Province.

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She said she traveled four days by train to Shaoguan. She tries to learn one new sentence in Mandarin every day.

She is one of 775 people from her hometown in Shufu working in Shaoguan, said Aihaiti Shayiti, county head of Shufu.

"One third of them are women, and there are 70 couples among them," said Aihaiti, denying a report in the Washington Post on July 15 that Uygur women were forced to go east to work on pain of their families receiving hefty fines as part of an alleged "labor export program" organized by local governments in Xinjiang.

"It is ridiculous to say the workers were forced to do the migrant work, since many of them go with their husbands," he said.

Amutijiang Yiliyasi came to the Xuri Toy Factory with his wife. He said most Uygur migrant workers cannot speak Mandarin, so they rely on local governments for job opportunities.

"I can't recognize Han characters for road names and read menus. But My wife and I want to work in Guangdong, so we can earn enough money to build our own house, when we go back home," he said.

"We need the government's help to get job offers and training. Otherwise, we have no choice but to stay home and farm," he said.

According to local officials in Shufu, the average per-capita yearly income in the agricultural county is 2,500 yuan ($366 dollars), which is about two months salary for a migrant worker.

A massive brawl in the toy factory, where the Uygur migrant workers work in Shaoguan, left two Uygur employees dead and more than 100 injured on June 26.

According to police investigation, an unsubstantiated posting on the Internet, saying "Six Xinjiang boys raped two innocent girls at the Xuri Toy Factory" caused the brawl.

Two people have been detained on charges of fabricating and spreading the rumors.

Muhetaer, a 20-year-old Uygur man working in the factory, said he would  stay on despite the incident.

"I will continue to work in the factory. I can get my pay on time here every month. My parents are happy that I am now able to support them," said Muhetaer, who sent 1,500 yuan home this week.

Coastal cities like Shaoguan are seeing more ethnic arrivals from inland regions. About 1.5 million migrant workers of different ethnic groups work in Guangdong Province, according to the provincial government.

"About 100,000 people of different ethnic groups leave Xinjiang for city jobs every year, said Nur Bekri, chairman of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region government, on Saturday.

"The job offers are accepted on the principle of free will. The local labor departments consult the parents of young people wanting to do migrant jobs," said Bekri.

Many local governments organized free technology and language training courses to prepare minority people for migrant jobs, he said.

"The regional government spent 300 million to 400 million yuan a year to provide the free courses," said Bekri.

"Migrant workers from Xinjiang may take some time to get accustomed to city jobs. Local governments may take some measures out of concern for their safety, such as buying group tickets for travel," he said.

He said everyone's skills faced challenges in a market economy.

"People in Xinjiang need to improve their skills to get accustomed to market changes," said the official.