Social Security for China’s Migrant Workers


Date: 5:30pm – 7:30pm, Thursday, August 28, 2014
Venue: Room 321, Level 3, Sidney Myer Asia Centre, University of Melbourne

Presented by Professor Andrew Watson
Chaired by Professor Christine Wong

The development of social security is a key concern for government, and the design of social policy presents a number of fundamental governance challenges:

  • What is the responsibility of government and what is the responsibility of the individual?
  • What is the role of the state and the market in the provision of services?
  • To what extent can social security deliver social justice and social equity?
  • How should the needs of disadvantaged groups be addressed?
  • How does the social security system influence the labour market? and
  • How can conflicts between different social interest groups be resolved?

In an era of ageing societies, these challenges come together most prominently in the design of policies for old-age retirement incomes. In China, social security policy is shaped by both the legacy of the planned economy and the challenges of economic transition. The new social insurance schemes began in the 1990s and are still evolving. On the one hand, the household registration regulations, with their division between localities and urban and rural populations, have created two distinct social security systems. On the other hand, schemes based on type and place of employment mean that different categories of people in different places get access to different levels of service. Large-scale rural-to-urban migration has highlighted the contradictions this situation creates and underlined the need for further reform. This presentation will discuss the reform of social security policy as it relates to the needs or rural-to-urban migrants, with particular emphasis on retirement incomes. It will summarize the current challenges facing the system and conclude with a discussion of the reforms needed for the next phase of development.

Andrew Watson was Professor of Asian Studies at the Centre for Asian Studies, University of Adelaide, and Co-Director of the University’s Chinese Economies Research Centre until 2001. Prior to that he was the Ford Foundation Representative in Beijing, and Senior Adviser to the ‘Social Security for Migrant Workers Project’ for the China-Australia Governance Program funded by AusAID. His research focuses on economic and political development in contemporary China, and he is particularly interested in rural development and the processes of economic reform and growth since 1978. His many publications include Living in China (Batsford: 1975), translator of Mao Zedong: Economic and Financial Problems (Cambridge University Press: 1980) and editor of Economic Reform and Social Change in China (Routledge: 1992). He has written many articles and chapters in journals and books and jointly edited a number of other books about China including Rural Financial Markets in China (with Christopher Findlay, Cheng Enjiang and Zhu Gang, Asia Pacific Press at ANU: 2003).

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