The Protection of Labor Rights of Migrant workers of Xinjiang Ethnic Minorities(美國美中報道)

The Protection of Labor Rights of Migrant workers of Xinjiang Ethnic Minorities in China

Longwen WANG, Researcher of Baichuan Think Tank, Associate Professor of Collaborative Innovation Center for Security and Development of Western Frontier China.

Kunfei YANG, Researcher of Baichuan Think Tank, Associate Professor of Collaborative Innovation Center for Security and Development of Western Frontier China.

Introduction:The Australian Institute of Strategic Policy Research (ASPI), in its report “Uighurs for Sale”, stigmatized the measures of labor transfer and employment for Uygurs within the framework of targeted poverty alleviation policy and partner assistance policy to Xinjiang as “forced labor”. However, the truth is that, since 2017, Xinjiang has been free of violence and terrorism for more than three years, and its economy has been developing steadily, creating favorable conditions for the people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang to enjoy a better life. Protecting the legitimate rights of workers and promoting decent work are an important part of China’s human rights protection policy. At the same time, combining the transfer of surplus labor with the policy of targeted poverty alleviation, is a long-term measure taken by China to promote the economic and social development of Xinjiang and ensure that all ethnic minorities in Xinjiang share the dividends of reform and development.

I:The protection of the human rights of ethnic minorities constitutes an important part of China’s human rights cause

Guided by the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the relevant international human rights conventions, China has continued to develop the cause of human rights in a stable and orderly manner since the implementation of three successive human rights action plans in 2009. In accordance with the principles of “advancing the cause of human rights in accordance with the law, integrating the cause of human rights into the track of the rule of law; promoting it in a coordinated manner so that all rights can be developed in an all-round and coordinated manner; advancing it pragmatically, combining the universal principles of human rights with China’s reality; China; promoting it on an equal basis so as to ensure that everyone can enjoy all human rights on an equal footing; working together to promote the development of human rights undertakings by the government, enterprises, institutions and social organizations”,[1] China guarantees the economic, social, cultural and political rights of its citizens in accordance with the law.

In view of the special needs of ethnic minorities, China has given priority to protecting the rights of ethnic minorities in economic development, equal access to public services, and the right to education, and has placed a prominent position in accelerating the development of ethnic minorities and ethnic areas.In fact, the vast majority of Uyghur people are willing to work in Shanghai, Jiangxi, Shandong, Guangdong and other provinces with better economic development, with the simple desire of “increasing income and increasing knowledge.” Through their work, these Uyghur people have greatly realized their individual social values, and their family living standards have also improved significantly.

According to the statistics of relevant departments, since 2018, about 151,000 surplus labor force from poverty-stricken families in southern Xinjiang have voluntarily worked in the mainland through the introduction of fellow villagers, help of relatives and job matching in the human resource market. Most of them are engaged in clothing and shoe making, electronic and electrical products manufacturing, food processing, catering services, packaging and other industries. The annual per capita income of these workers is more than 45000 yuan, far higher than that of farming in southern Xinjiang, and their families have been lifted out of poverty.[2]At the same time, in order to protect the religious belief rights and living habits of the Uyghur people, mosques and Muslim restaurants have been built in all parts of China in accordance with the law, providing a supportive social environment for Uyghur people to live and work in various places.

China fully respects the human rights of ethnic minorities and the Uyghur people fully enjoy various rights, including the freedom of movement and the right to voluntary and independent employment. Recently, in preventing and control the novel coronavirus pneumonia (Covid-19), China always focuses on the right of life and health of all ethnic groups, and tries to cure the confirmed patients. It also reduces the medical expenses for individuals affected by the epidemic, and protects the basic rights of every citizen with the right to health and life. This attitude is in sharp contrast to the way in which white people and other ethnic patients are treated differently in the United States.

II:The Chinese Government attaches particular importance to promoting the realization of the employment rights of ethnic minorities

The Chinese Constitution stipulates that Chinese citizens have the right and obligation to work. The right to work is a right granted to all citizens by the constitution. In order to protect citizens’ right to work, the Chinese government has successively promulgated the Labour Law, the Labour Contract Law and other laws and relevant administrative regulations. Workers enjoy the rights of equal employment and choice of occupation, the right to receive labour remuneration, the right to rest and leave, the right to obtain work safety and health protection, the right to receive vocational skill training, and the right to enjoy social insurance and welfare, the right to apply for settlement of labour disputes and other labour rights stipulated by law. China’s laws and regulations protect workers’ right to labour freedom and oppose forced labour. Workers have the right to freely control their own labour force within a certain range, and resist all kinds of illegal forced labour behaviors that infringe on their labour rights and interests.

China’s labour law stipulates that if a labourer is forced to work, he / she can terminate the labour contract at any time without informing the employer, and he / she can obtain economic compensation. Workers can ask for help from trade unions, apply to labour arbitration institutions for arbitration, or directly file a lawsuit to the court to protect their rights and interests. According to China’s Criminal Law, forced labour is a criminal offence. If an employing unit, in violation of the laws and regulations on labour administration, forces its employees to work by restricting their personal freedom; if the circumstances are serious, the person directly responsible shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years or criminal detention and shall also, or shall only, be fined.

Like all workers, Uyghur migrant workers may sign labour contracts with enterprises in accordance with the law, clarifying their rights and interests such as work content, working conditions, working hours, labour remuneration, social insurance, rest and vacation, and establish labour relations protected by law. In accordance with the labour law, enterprises purchase pension insurance, medical insurance, unemployment insurance, work-related injury insurance and maternity insurance for Xinjiang migrant workers.

At the same time, the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region’s Federation of Trade Unions and the relevant provincial and municipal trade unions in the mainland have established a two-way legal rights protection mechanism, jointly do a good job in protecting the rights and interests of Xinjiang migrant workers in the mainland, actively guide them to join the local trade union organizations, issue the “Manual on Employee Rights Protection Services”, and help solve their difficulties in a timely manner.[3] Under the dual protection of laws and regulations and trade union organizations, Uyghur workers enjoy their legitimate labour rights and interests equally, and the so-called “forced labour” is virtually nonexistent.

III:China has been implementing an active policy of labor market

In line with the principle that employment is the biggest livelihood issue, the Chinese government has been implementing active labour market policies to provide all-round support for stabilizing employment and promoting employment. Active employment policies focus on public employment services and employment training, on improving the mobility of workers, encouraging cross-regional employment and providing care for disadvantaged special employment groups.

China’s active labour market policy, which is fully consistent with the concept of labour market policy advocated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) since the 1960s, is aimed at creating conditions for workers, promoting their employment, stimulating the supply of jobs, creating conditions for the unemployed and improving their labour skills, including through training. It is not fundamentally different from the U.S. government’s policy of providing re-employment services to the unemployed. It is puzzling why their efforts made by the Chinese government in providing employment training, vocational skills and job creation for the poor Uighur workforce through the Aid Xinjiang programs and labour transfer employment job opportunities, have become “forced labour”?

It is the basic premise of employment work for workers to participate in vocational training. It is of great significance for the workers and their families to get rid of poverty and live a happy life. A research based on investigation and data analysis by the teachers and students of Xinjiang Agricultural University, pointed out that under the background of targeted poverty alleviation and rural revitalization, it is necessary to carry out vocational skills training for the Uyghur people in Xinjiang, which has the important effect of improving skills, improving living standards and successfully getting rid of poverty.[4]

IV:Labor transfer and Employment is an important measure in China’s poverty reduction strategy

The Chinese government attaches great importance to poverty reduction. Since the implementation of the poverty alleviation policy in the 1980s, through more than 30 years of unremitting efforts, it has made brilliant achievements in poverty reduction recognized by the world, and has become the first country in the world to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving the number of people living in poverty. Since the beginning of the 21st century, with the rapid development of China’s economy and the continuous improvement of people’s living standards, the Chinese government has further strengthened poverty alleviation efforts and put forward a targeted poverty alleviation strategy to ensure the elimination of absolute poverty in China by the year of 2020.According to the plan of the Chinese government, from 2015 to 2020, China will ensure that 70 million people are lifted out of poverty on schedule, which means 12 million people will be reduced every year, and 1 million people will be reduced every month. The basic strategy of the targeted poverty alleviation is to mobilize the whole society to participate in poverty alleviation through supporting production and employment development, relocation and resettlement, poverty alleviation through ecological protection, poverty alleviation through education, and the adoption of a minimum living standard guaranteeing policy.

The policy of poverty alleviation by labour transfer employment refers to organizing and guiding the surplus rural poor labour force to be transferred from the family-style agricultural production, and engage in work or business activities nearby or out of town, so that they can obtain wage income or business income, and help them get rid of poverty.[5] The basic purpose of the policy of poverty alleviation through labour transfer and employment advocated by the Chinese government is to expand the employment scale and improve the employment quality of the poor labour force and drive them out of poverty. Under the advocacy of the central government and the strong support of the economically developed areas, the poverty-stricken areas actively carry out the work of poverty alleviation through labour transfer and employment. Xinjiang is only one of the many regions that implement the poverty alleviation policy of labour transfer employment.

Affected by the topography, climate and other objective factors, Xinjiang has a poor living environment and high reconstruction cost, which is also a typical poverty-stricken area in China. Hotan, Aksu, Kashi, and the Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture of Kizilsu, are known as the four prefectures of Southern Xinjiang, and belong to the areas of extreme poverty in China. Therefore, Xinjiang has become the key implementation area of China’s targeted poverty alleviation policy. Labour transfer employment poverty alleviation policy and the Partner Assistance (Aid-Xinjiang policy) are important strategies for Xinjiang to achieve accurate poverty alleviation. Through the implementation of long-term and orderly labour transfer and employment poverty alleviation action, Xinjiang has broadened the employment channels of poor workers and improved their working skills. More than 100000 workers have realized the transfer of employment.[6]

Partner poverty alleviation or partner assistance is a long-term and important poverty alleviation and development policy in China. As early as in the early stage of reform and opening up, Deng Xiaoping had made it a strategic arrangement to help the development of the inland regions by the coast regions. The report of the 14th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 1992 also pointed out that the state should adopt effective policies to support minority areas, old revolutionary bases, border areas and poverty-stricken areas, and the economically more developed areas should take various forms to help them accelerate their development.

In 1996, in order to promote the development of Xinjiang, the central government made a major strategic decision to carry out the work of assisting Xinjiang, and officially launched the first round of aid work in Xinjiang. In 2010, the central government made an important decision to carry out a new round of partner support work in Xinjiang, further strengthening and promoting the partner support work in Xinjiang. The goal is to minimize the gap between Xinjiang and the mainland, and ensure that Xinjiang will achieve a well-off society in an all-round way by 2020.To this end, the central government has determined that 19 provinces and cities, including Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Guangdong, Liaoning and Shenzhen, will undertake the task of partner support to Xinjiang, encourage coastal provinces to set up enterprises in Xinjiang, and provide Xinjiang residents with a large number of jobs and training opportunities in the mainland.

In response to the call of the Central Committee, these 19 provinces, autonomous regions and cities have gradually established an effective mechanism for all-round assistance to Xinjiang, such as personnel, technology, management and funds. They have given priority to the protection and improvement of people’s livelihood, focused on helping people of all ethnic groups solve basic livelihood problems such as employment, education and housing, and support the development of characteristic and advantageous industries in Xinjiang. In the partner assistance, an important strategy is to transfer the poor labour force in Xinjiang to the aiding provinces, autonomous regions and cities to realize the transfer employment.

It should be said that the Chinese government has made great efforts for the prosperity and stability of Xinjiang and the well-being of the people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang, and has also received many achievements. However, these efforts by the Chinese government have not received the attention due from the Western world. What’s more, organizations like ASPI can’t see the efforts made by the Chinese government for the well-being of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang. On the contrary, they stigmatize the Chinese government for “forced labour” against the Uyghur people and “selling and buying Uyghurs”. Such a reversal of black and white can only show that there is an ulterior political purpose behind it.


Human rights are not the best, only better. To actively protect the labor right of ethnic minorities, including the Uygur, is not only a reflection of China’s conscientious fulfillment of relevant international conventions that it has ratified, but also a fulfillment of the state’s positive obligations under the Constitution. China will continue to implement a long-term policy of transferring surplus rural labor force from Xinjiang to other parts of the country for employment, and continue to align it with the policy of targeted poverty alleviation and the policy of partner assistance. This is not only because it conforms to China’s current law of economic development and the characteristics of social structure, but also conforms to the whole society’s cultural atmosphere of making a better life by working hard and positively.