3 Feb 2009

China says 20 million migrants lose jobs

6:26 pm on 3 February 2009

A labour official in China says about 20 million rural migrants have lost jobs as the nation's economic growth has faltered.

Chen Xiwen, director of the Office of the Central Rural Work Leading Group, told a news conference that a recent survey showed 15.3% of the 130 million migrants moving from villages to cities and factories had returned jobless to the countryside.

Once the 6 to 7 million new entrants into the rural labour market are taken into account, Mr Chen said, China will this year have about 25 million rural migrant workers coming under pressure for employment.

The new rural jobless are a worry for the ruling Communist Party, especially if migrant workers find their farmland has been taken for development.

"There's a considerable number of rural migrants who are unemployed. After they return to villages, what about their incomes? How will they live? That's a new factor concerning social stability this year," said Mr Chen.

"Protecting employment and protecting people's welfare is protecting rural social stability."

Mr Chen, who advises national leaders, was speaking a day after the government issued its first big policy document for 2009, which as in past years was devoted to rural development.

That document laid out policies intended to shore up farm incomes, generate jobs for rural unemployed, and extend welfare and healthcare spending in villages.

Mr Chen's estimate of migrant worker unemployment was about double an official projection reported by a Chinese magazine early last month.