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Contemporary China Migrant Workers Conditions Essay

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Updated: Jun 16th, 2020


The conditions of migrant workers in contemporary China are improving because of the laws/policies that have been implemented and the recognition of their rights by the state. The government policies have been tailored towards the international standards, and the respect for human rights is paramount. Similarly, the working conditions for the migrant workers on issues such as salaries, wages and recognition of the individual employee have also improved, thus boosting their morale at work. Therefore, it is due to both the rules and consciousness the standard of living of the migrant workers in China has significantly increased.


The increase in manufacturing and service sector in urban centers in China has played a vital role in raising the number of rural migrants seeking job opportunities in the country’s urban centers. Prospective entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the country’s high population to establish businesses, some of which need casual workers. The migrant workers experience a lot of challenges during their work staying in the urban centers. The essay outlines/explains the conditions of rural migrant workers in contemporary China and the ways in which such employees cope with the conditions.

Conditions of Migrant Workers in Contemporary China

Many migrant workers in China are neglected in terms of the economic development and cultural needs (Hanushek & Wößmann 2007, p. 7). Similarly, majority of them do not enjoy the legal and social justice that the urban dwellers are accorded. This kind of marginalization has greatly interfered with the way those workers perform their activities and the manner in which they coordinate with the urban counterparts. It also decreases the individual self-esteem and interferes with the person’s freedom of operation. As a result of the adverse international economic conditions such as slowdowns, depressions and inflations rates, the Chinese economy has shown some level of vulnerability, a situation that has been felt among the rural migrants.

In essence, the migrant employees have shown susceptibility to the unusual economic conditions, thus some are unable to realize their objectives at work. For example, economic problems in China such as global recession and inflation are likely to increase the government’s sensitivity to the urban dwellers as opposed to the rural migrants, thus making it protect the urban Chinese workers at the expense of the migrant employees (Du, Park & Wang 2005, p. 701). Although this can be viewed as discrimination, the benchmark is that the government exists to protect the urban dwellers and their interests. The major sufferers are the desperate rural migrant people who seek ordinary employment in the factories, service sectors or as shop attendants (Guangdong Enterprises Survey Team 2006, p. 4). In such cases, the rural migrants and other casual workers are vulnerable to mistreatment by the employers; for example, working for long hours, low pay, hard labor, and poor safety in the workplace (Tong 2006, p. 57). These are some of the problems which the migrant workers go through secretly without due attention of the Chinese authority.

However, improved governance structures and laws in the country have saved many migrant workers from their vulnerability state. Currently, Beijing does everything possible from legal to economic, social and cultural changes to make sure that the domestic and international economic crises do not impact negatively the migrant workers. it concerns not only such workers, but also other domestic workforce employed in the manufacturing and service sector. Therefore, the country tries to deal with the current international requirements relating to human rights and changing economic trends (Lemieux 2006, p. 52). In fact, the international community is very concerned about the respect to human rights and all countries have no option, but to adapt the requirements.

Under the new and liberalized laws exercised in China, the migrant workers’ rights and freedom are guaranteed as they work in the country (Arulampalam, Booth & Bryan 2004, p. 351). For example, the country’s Human Rights Watch (HRW) constantly monitored the ways in which the financial crisis was impacting the government’s reaction to the workers’ rights. Moreover, the body closely monitored if such rights and privileges were being violated during the hard economic conditions. As a result of the institution’s work, the country had to uphold those rights and privileges so that the migrant workers could not suffer any form of discrimination. In the contemporary China, even those rural migrant workers who could not have access to the social welfare had the opportunity to get proper treatment as the other ordinary Chinese citizens (Tong 2006, p. 72). This practice is more prevalent in urban areas and gradually embraced in the rural setting as the programs spread across the country. In addition, the restrictions were gradually being overtaken by events in the country as the authority adopted new and liberalized rules (Au & Henderson 2006, p. 375).

In order to show that the leadership was previously not committed to eliminating the economic and legal barriers, the Beijing Municipal Government implemented a program that was intended to provide employment opportunities to the Chinese rural dwellers by subsidizing the employers who were to recruit the local people residing in urban areas (Au & Henderson 2006, p. 378). Essentially, this decision was not respected, and was not in line with the rights of the migrant workers. It was explicitly barring the rural migrant job seekers the rare opportunity to compete for the vacant opportunities fairly, meaning that it was discriminative. This argument is true because the migrant workers cannot be considered for employment under that program, even though they have migrated to urban locations.

The other thing that changed the system was the argument put forward by the Human Rights Watch (HRW). The institution postulated that continued barrier to employment opportunities for the migrants had impending consequences on their descendants who were expected to continue staying in the urban centers. For example, if the migrant does not get reliable and well paying employment, his or her children cannot get quality healthcare, food, education, and other social needs (Fleicher & Wang 2004, p. 322). This had dire consequences for the country’s economy and the people’s standard of living. In an attempt to eliminate the occurrence of such problems, the country had adopted a policy which ensures that all children go to school for nine years being totally free and compulsory. In addition, the government also adopted affirmative action to make sure that the migrants in the country had equal employment opportunities with the Chinese people. Therefore, the measures were necessary to make sure that the people remained in harmony despite their racial backgrounds. This was to make sure that the migrants lived a health and dignified lifestyle, which the country had achieved.

Since some of the migrant workers contribute to the development of innovation and development in the Chinese industries, the expertise achievements are worth noting. The reason for this position is that the dynamic management and working systems that the migrant workers manifest lead to the rapid growth of the manufacturing sector in contemporary China (Liu & Xiao 2006, p. 163). This stresses the need for formal protection of the migrant workers. Despite the government’s attempt to minimize the affects of economic problems in the country on the migrants, the latter still fall victims of unavoidable problems such as economic or fiscal changes, trade barriers and variations in consumer tastes.

Prior to the international financial crisis that grossly affected China, there were numerous violations of human rights, especially among the country’s migrant workers. In most cases, they were not allowed to engage in collective bargaining for better terms of employment. This means that they could neither form nor engage in the activities of other trade unions in the country, but only follow the guidelines of the China Federation Trade Union. During that time, the migrant workers could not collectively agitate for better working conditions such as pay rise, safe workplace, respect and recognition to all employees (Ravallion & Chen 2007, p. 37).

The adoption of international laws, which guaranteed the employees such rights and privileges, changed the way the rural migrant workers were being treated. For example, the workers could not be discriminated because of their social status, but the person’s experience played a vital role in the way the employer related to the rural migrant workers. This was important because the practice improved the worker’s morale and subsequent output.

In the contemporary China, the discriminative treatment and monetary policies, which barred the migrant workers from accessing the legal remedy for most of their problems such as rights abuse, owed salaries and wages, were abolished (Tong 2006, p. 84). In this regard, the migrant workers are allowed to seek legal means of addressing their grievances and other labor rights at workplace (Liu & Xiao 2006, p. 168). The rules also indicated that the rural migrant workers must be respected, recognized and accorded the best treatment just as their urban counterparts (Tong 2006, p. 99). Apparently, the rules have increased the living condition for the rural migrants because many of them could feel acknowledged and treasured in the various companies where they work.

Some of the rural migrant workers in China are not experienced, meaning that they normally find themselves in the construction industry. In such environment, the workers are exposed to hazardous workplace, poor wages, hard labor, long working hours, and limited access to legal assistance when their contracts are disputed. However, the new labor laws in China have empowered the rural migrant workers to demand for lawfully formulated contracts. The laws are in line with the international trend and requirements so that the worker makes informed decision and is protected by the law (Meng & Gregory 2007, p. 11). This is because the contracts spell the minimum wage that the worker would be paid and the terms of service.

Adequate information is central to the worker and likely to increase his or her morale at workplace. For example, employers in China preciously used to inform the migrant workers that they would be entitled to annual salary on totality. The face value seems lucrative because the amount of money that the person would be entitled to receive on annual basis is higher and attractive. However, when tabulated on monthly basis, it could turn out to be minimal, thus cannot serve the needs of the migrant worker.

In addition, some employers sick to the opinion that the migrant worker should be paid on annual basis and not monthly. This could make the worker’s life very miserable. The new laws in China do not recognize the annual entirety and payment of the migrant employees (Meng & Gregory 2007, p. 14). This is aimed at improving the workers’ ability to plan and execute most of the project during his/her life. Consequently, the liberalized laws help in protecting the welfare of the migrant worker and improving his/her standards of living. Consider the tabulated employment situation.

The Employment Situation of Rural Migrants
Table 1: The Employment Situation of Rural Migrants

Source: DFID & WBG, 2004

Furthermore, the law has made it compulsory for the potential employers to make sure that the migrant workers are paid salary above the country authorized minimum wage that could be established using the copula approach (Genius & Strazzera 2008, p. 1448). This makes it difficult for the employer to exploit his or her employees in terms of salaries and wages. For instance, the monthly salary payment ensures that the employee does not suffer to maintain his/her family. This has improved the workers’ living conditions to an average lifestyle.

The new laws in contemporary China have improved the access to basic human needs such as food, clothe, employment opportunity, and housing facility (Kuruscu 2006, p. 841). In addition, it has also increased the chances of the workers getting access to safe water and working conditions. Since those are some of the human needs, it might be difficult for a migrant worker to enjoy his or her duties in an urban center. The probability of one becoming sick could increase because the person might lack such important needs of life such as proper food and medication.

Following years of mass exploitation of the migrant workers, the Chinese government has carried out a lot of changes on welfare improvement. Some of the development initiatives include creating employment opportunities and the measures were aimed at protecting the potential employees from mistreatment employers who were tricking the jobless migrants (DFID & WBG 2004, p. 18). The changes have absolutely transformed the workers’ welfare and social livelihood in the country, meaning the unemployed migrant workers could get better employment conditions (Angrist, Chernozhukov & Fernandez-Val 2006, p. 544). To understand this better, consider the table below.

The working time of migrant workers in term of education in 2002
Table 2: The working time of migrant workers in term of education in 2002

Source: DFID & WBG, 2004


From the information given, it is true that the conditions of rural migrant workers in contemporary China are better with the implementation of laws/policies and the consciousness of rights by the people. Basically, the two aspects such as the policies and consciousness to human rights are interdependent and essential to improve the conditions. Therefore, the government policies have been adapted towards the global standards where respect for human rights is vital and prioritized. This is important because the new laws in contemporary China have enhanced the access to basic human needs such as food, clothe, employment opportunity, and housing facility.


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Chinese Version

(刊物。如何遷移限制,限制中國的集聚和生產力。編輯…日報:發展經濟學雜誌- J發展經濟,第一卷。 80,沒有。 2,頁350-3882006…的是,在中國獨特的戶籍制度(見劉AuHenderson2006年,2005年;…C.西蒙風扇等。)

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Chinese Version


Hanushek, E & Wößmann, L 2007, “The Role of School Improvement in Economic Development”, CESifo Working Paper 1911.

Kuruscu, B 2006, “Training and Lifetime Income”, American Economic Review, vol. 96 no.3, pp. 833-46.

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Chinese Version

(勒米厄,T.(2006)。 “明瑟方程”三十年後的學校教育,經驗和盈利。 :J.絞肉機(主編),現代勞動經濟學的先驅…)

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Chinese Version

(Meng and Gregory (2007)考察了文化大革命對於人們教育機會的衝擊,併計算了…模型進行估計: Pr( I = 0 z ) = 1 1 + ∑ j =1 exp( β j + γ j * policy + δ j * X ) 2 ,Pr( …而非業已存在的發展趨勢,我們在表2 的B 部分做了一個安慰劑(placebo)練習。)

Ravallion, M & Chen, S 2007, “China’s (uneven) Progress against Poverty”, Journal of Development Economics, vol. 82 no.1, pp. 1-42.

Tong, C 2006, The Analysis on Unequal Treatment to the Chinese Farmers During the Society Reforming, Social Sciences Academic Press, China.

Chinese Version


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