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Migrant workers' representation rises at top legislature

2015-03-10 16:33 Xinhua Web Editor: Gu Liping

Vegetable farmers, security guards, construction workers and foot masseurs are among more than 2,900 people reviewing the draft revision of China's Legislation Law at this year's parliamentary session.

Workers and farmers are increasingly seen at the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, reviewing drafts and voting for the passage of laws alongside government officials and industry tycoons.

The share of workers and farmers elected as deputies to the 12th National People's Congress rose to 13.42 percent, up 5.18 percent from the previous term.

One of the stronger voices representing grassroots delegates is Xue Haiying, a sanitation worker from Tianjin who caught media attention after pushing for increased medical benefits and better living conditions for migrant workers last year.

Part of the reason for Xue's proposal was the plight of a co-worker who was diagnosed with liver cancer last year. The medical costs for the disease left the co-worker's family in huge debt that will likely take years to pay off.

In the city where Xue works, sanitation worker's monthly pay is around 1,680 yuan (268 U.S. dollars). After paying for rent, parental care and children's education, only a pittance is left for health care, Xue said when proposing the increased medical benefits in 2014.

In a response from the China's Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, officials told Xue addressing her concern takes time.

This year, Xue is continuing to push for a solution of the issue.

Despite a low income, Xue has equal power over proposals at the NPC as Pony Ma, who presides the 160-billion-dollar Chinese internet giant Tencent.

Though they don't have illustrious education or abundant personal wealth, grassroots NPC deputies are a constant source of change and solutions to persisting problems at the lowest level of the Chinese society.

They garner just as much, if not more, media attention as the wealthy and powerful lawmakers, since many challenges the country faces arise from where they work and live.

Chen Xueping, a 49-year-old construction worker from east China's Shandong Province, has made proposals regarding the countryside for three consecutive years after becoming a NPC deputy at the beginning of 2013.

Chen didn't make it to college after high school. After a brief period of farming, she went to the city with her husband for a job, only to find life was not as good as the couple imagined.

Chen's husband got a painting job in 1991. His foreman promised him a 1,000 yuan salary but only paid him 500. Chen's mother-in-law also fell ill that year. After paying medical bills, the family could only afford to eat 1 kg of meat for the whole year.

"I remember, my husband held me in his arms as he cried and said he couldn't even afford to buy me one piece of clothing," Chen said.

That's when she realized that a lack of legal knowledge has made migrant workers vulnerable in labor disputes. Chen also became a painter and witnessed many of her co-worker's anguish over getting paid properly.

This year, Chen brought with her a nine-page report on migrant workers' wage arrears, its cause and some solutions, hoping her first-hand experience and suggestions collected in the past month could make a difference.

Zhu Liangyu, another NPC deputy, came to Beijing to work as a security guard in 1993, after a thunderstorm ruined the crops he tended as a farmer in Shandong.

In his 20-year-career as a security guard in the nation's capital, Zhu has caught thieves and helped put out fires. He finally found a way to voice his concerns for people working in the same profession after becoming an NPC deputy in 2013.

In an attempt to win more public recognition for what they do, Zhu proposed the Ministry of Public Security should select the best security guard in the country every five years. His proposal has since become reality.

This year, Zhu seeks to improve the social security support for police and measures against attacks on police.

China has 270 million migrant workers, one fifth of the country's population. But they have been under represented in the country's top legislation in the past.

Hu Xiaoyan, the first migrant worker elected as an NPC deputy in 2008, has seen many of her proposals became reality, including improving education for children of migrant workers, ways to solve worker payment issues and increasing the representation of her fellow workers at the NPC.

"When people look at me, they are looking at the entire community of migrant workers," Hu said.

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