China’s Premier Li Keqiang delivered his annual report on the work of the government this Thursday at the National People’s Congress.

Jennifer Zhang China, Migrants

Chinese construction workers. Photo credit: thepismire

Although workers often deem this kind of high-level policy addresses as empty and meaningless, it might still be useful to take a brief look at what the government achieved last year and what it is planning to do to improve workers’ living condition this year.

In 2014, 13.22 million new urban jobs were created. People’s income rose by 8% nationwide, and the basic pension benefits for retired workers went up by 10%. In a series of reforms to promote fair access to education, 28 provinces have begun to allow children who live with their migrant worker parents to take the college entrance exam in their cities of residence. Previously due to the limit of the house registry system, migrant workers’ children can only take the college entrance exam back to their hometown, which is unfair and inconvenient to the children of migrant workers.

The government’s overarching aim in 2015 is to create 10 million new jobs in cities and to grow workers’ income in pace with the economic development.

In order to cope with the rising labour cost, Li urges companies to upgrade themselves with technology and innovation, and to invest in services and new emerging sectors such as IT and biomedicine. Accordingly, the government will carry out plans to provide vocational training for migrant workers to boost their skills.

The report outlines a series of reforms to the household registration system to enable migrant workers to better integrate into the cities:

“We need to promptly implement reforms to the household registration system and relax controls over the transfer of household registration. People originally from rural areas who live and work in urban areas but have yet to gain urban residency will be able to access basic public services on the basis of their residence certificates, and we will get rid of fees related to residence certification. We will link the 48 transfer payments of cities to their performance in granting urban residency to eligible migrant workers and find suitable ways to share the cost of ensuring migrant workers can become urban citizens. ”

The report also emphasises the control of population in first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai, which have become overburdened due to the influx of migrant workforce, and the development of smaller cities and towns to attract migrant labourers.

As to the country’s rising numbers of collective labour conflicts, the premier highlighted the issue of wage arrears, and pledges the government will “improve the mechanisms for supervising the handling of labour issues and disputes, and ensure the law fully functions as the protector of the rights and interests of anyone in employment.”

Li has listed a series of ambitious social insurance reforms that will make the system more appealing and affordable to workers. Aside from increasing basic pension benefits for retired workers by another 10%, the government will work to place the basic pensions of workers in urban areas under unified national management. The current system is problematic given that it does not allow workers to transfer their pension contributions in different provinces. The government will also lower the premiums for the unemployment insurance scheme and the workplace injury insurance scheme.

Finally, migrant workers’ children will have some good news as well, as the government continues to advance fair access to education. The children of migrant workers will soon be able to receive compulsory education in the cities and towns where they and their parents live. Previously they need to pay extra money to study at schools outside their hometown.

Let us hope the government’s pledges will become a reality rather than fairy tales.

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Jennifer Zhang

Jennifer Zhang is USi’s China coordinator based in Hong Kong.

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