Temporary residence permits and migrant workers

The article below, taken from the China Youth Daily, outlines just one of the problems that face China’s vast army of migrant workers and reveals the fundamental insecurity of their position within China despite the massive contribution they make to the Chinese economy.

Why have temporary residence identity cards become a nightmare for migrant workers from rural areas?

By Xie Zhiwei

Migrant workers from rural areas are more concerned about their salary and temporary residence identify cards than anything else. They hate and fear delays in their salary payments. The lack of a temporary residence identity card can cause migrant workers to have nightmares. If a migrant worker is discovered by authorities to not have a temporary residence identity card for any reason, he or she will be punished for certain. In addition, this worker could be detained and could even face death.

Recently, a tragedy in Guangzhou was caused by the lack of temporary residence identity cards according to a report in the "Guangzhou Daily" Jan. 26, 2003. Five rural workers were loaded onto a truck after being found without their cards during an inspection by the Security Team under the Qingfengju Neighborhood Committee of Baiyun district in Guangzhou. They fell from the truck when it was travelling at a high speed. One who was slightly injured and fled the scene; two were seriously injured and died in the hospital; another was badly injured and is still in ICU at the hospital. One worker is missing.

This is not the first such report. One young farmer who traveled from Hunan to Guangzhou to find work as a migrant employee died merely because he did not have a temporary residence identity card (fellow workers and members of the security team have different stories about whether he was murdered or committed suicide). A young woman from Sichuan province went to find work in Dongguan, Guangdong province and was badly beaten by members of a security team checking for her temporary residence identity card.

A resident must apply for and have their temporary residence identity cards on their person when working away from where their permanent residence is registered. However, experiences surrounding this card have made migrant workers feel like they have "survived disasters."

At first glance, it seems migrant workers should be punished if they do not have a temporary residence identity card. This card is part of urban administration rules. Applying for a temporary residence identity card is simple and cheap. Why then do some migrant workers refuse to apply for the cards? The author believes that, in addition to the desire to be able to take advantage of opportunities as they arise, the workers cannot afford the expenses entailed in obtaining a card.

Most migrant workers are afraid of the procedures required to obtain a temporary residence identity card. Migrant workers not only have to pay to get the card, they are also unclear as to which cards they should apply for and what procedures they should go through to get the cards. As a result, they may not have one or another particular card, which exposes them to fines and other punishments. To meet government requirements for migrant workers, a migrant worker must have on their person their ID cards, their temporary residence identity card, a work permit, a family planning birth plan certificate, a certificate stating their marital status and a health certificate. Undoubtedly, going through the procedures to obtain these certificates is a burden for migrant workers. To cut costs, some migrant workers expose themselves to risk and play "hide-and-seek" with law enforcers.

Some administrative departments cannot seem to shake their contributions to the problems with migrant worker cards. The State Development Planning Commission and the Ministry of Finance jointly issued a "Notice on clearing and rectifying fees charged to migrant workers" according to which the fee charged for every temporary residence identity card should be no more than RMB5. However, local government departments create a variety of additional fees which are charged at random. In addition, these departments work in an extremely inefficient manner. Some migrant workers complained that it took them a few months to get their temporary residence identity cards, but these cards can be prepared within a few days. Some administrative departments attach greater importance to collecting fees than to providing services. Government services, warped by the desire to earn more cash, have created a damper on the enthusiasm and conscientiousness of migrant workers for following the procedures need to obtain the various required cards.

Enforcing laws in a violent manner is another cause of problems. Some administrative departments hire temporary employees and authorize them to work within a "given scope." Some of these "employees" have little integrity and may even be leaders of local gangs or underground groups. It is easy to imagine what might happen if people of these people are allowed to "enforce laws." They ignore laws and regulations and do whatever they like. Using force to "enforce the law" is part of their life. Migrant workers see these people as evil and avoid them as much as possible. Some administrative departments are extremely tolerant of such "law enforcers." In fact, it is only the support of these departments that allows these "law enforcers" to behave so maliciously and recklessly! Getting rid of the apple that is spoiling the bunch is a necessity. But the author believes efforts must be devoted to getting rid of the root of the problem. Administrative departments must rectify work styles, treat migrant workers decently, protect the legal interests of migrant workers and prevent the repetition of such problems!

China Youth Daily, 2003.02.10, 08

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