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Migrant workers still avoid contracts

By AN BAIJIE | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-28 01:07

Expert blames reluctance on high costs of paying for social security

Less than half of all migrant workers across China signed contracts with their employers last year, and analysts say the situation is likely to continue.

The country's migrant workforce reached 262.61 million in 2012, a year-on-year increase of 3.9 percent, according to a report released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Monday.

But only 43.9 percent of those workers signed contracts - little changed from the previous year.

Breaking down the bureau's numbers into sectors, the construction industry fared best, with 75.1 percent of migrant workers signing contracts with their employers, an annual growth of 1.5 percentage points.

In the manufacturing sector, only 48.8 percent signed contracts.

Zhang Yi, a researcher of labor force and economy studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the construction industry is considered high risk, and as a result most migrant workers choose to sign contracts, to safeguard their rights in case of accidents.

In other sectors, though, he said that migrant workers get jobs through relatives, who are also migrant workers and recommend family members to employers.

"Under such conditions, workers are unlikely to sign contracts as they trust their relatives to look after them," he said.

About 0.5 percent of migrant workers reported they did not get paid on time last year, a drop of 0.3 percentage points from the previous year, according to the bureau's report.

Li Sha, 24, a migrant worker from Juancheng county in Shandong province, said she had never even thought of signing a contract after coming to Beijing to work with her cousin's refurbishing team, which was not registered at the industrial and commercial department.

"I can't tell the difference between signing and not signing a contract," she said.

"All the workers in our refurbishing team are from the same town and none have signed contracts."

Many migrant workers are also reluctant to sign contracts because if they did, their salaries would be reduced by about 42 percent to pay for their social security including pensions and insurance, Zhang said.

Under current labor regulations in many cities, migrant workers cannot get any social security funds back if they leave the city where they work, and as a result, many do not want to pay for social security since many do not plan to stay, he added.

Even though a migrant worker stays in a city, many do not enjoy equal rights to natives of the city, in education, medicine and pensions due to the long-existing hukou, or household registration system, Zhang said.

The government in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, launched a pilot project in May to cancel the current rural and urban hukou, and allow all residents to have the same hukou status.

Zhang said the reform has set a good example for many local governments, but not many cities have said they would like to provide similar equal rights for migrant workers due to the pension and insurance costs.

He predicted it would take a long time for the government to provide equal social security rights to urban and rural residents, but only then will migrant workers be willing to sign contracts.

Li Shi, a Beijing Normal University professor who has carried out research on the growing income gap in China, said that many migrant workers would never be fully accepted by urban people, and the biggest hurdle they are always likely to face is on government-subsidized rental housing.

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