State Council Notice Calls for Better Treatment of Migrants

March 14, 2006

A December 2004 State Council notice calls on authorities to improve the treatment of migrant workers, but the limited scope of the reforms contained in it suggests that any improvements in official handling of migrants’ problems will be incremental.

The notice calls for three broad types of reforms: eliminating discriminatory employment measures and improving job assistance programs (for more information, see an earlier CECC analysis); resolving outstanding violations of migrants’ rights (such as back wage complaints); and regulating labor markets more tightly (by, for example, increasing government supervision of labor contracts).

The Notice does not address a number of significant issues. First, it does not mandate the removal of all legal barriers to migrants’ obtaining normal government services. For example, the notice expressly authorizes certain discriminatory local government measures, such as temporary residence permits and additional school fees for migrant children. Second, the Notice places limits on the mandated reforms. For example, consistent with Communist Party statements on the subject, the Notice implies that authorities have “essentially resolved” back wage claims since 2003, and officials should not handle such claims. Third, the Notice reflects a continued Chinese government preference for addressing migrant issues through administrative means rather than establishing clearly defined legal rights that migrants can assert in legal channels.