Social stability has become a major concern in China as the nation fumbles its way in what Premier Wen Jiabao called "the most difficult year for China's economic development since the beginning of the century."
"We will improve the early-warning system for social stability to actively prevent and properly handle all types of mass incidents," Wen said in his government work report delivered at the annual session of the parliament Thursday.
Wen urged officials to give top priority to ensuring people's well being and promote social harmony. "The more difficulties we face, the greater attention we should pay to ensuring people's well being and promoting social harmony and stability."
The word "stability" is mentioned 12 times in the 44-page English version of the report.
The country should be clearly aware that it faces unprecedented difficulties and challenges, as the global financial crisis continues to spread and get worse, Wen said.
China witnessed a series of mass incidents during the past year, including protests by unemployed workers, taxi drivers strikes, and the unrest in the southwestern Weng'an County triggered by the death of a school girl.
The task of maintaining social stability became more arduous as the global financial crisis worsened and hit the real economy of China hard.
China's top political advisor Jia Qinglin on Tuesday urged his colleagues from the private sector not to lay off workers to help maintain social stability amid the global economic turmoil.
Jia, Chairman of the 11th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), also urged political advisors from the ethnic minorities and religious circles to play a unique role in the drive for ethnic unity and religious harmony.
China's labor dispute lawsuits nearly doubled last year over 2007 because of the economic downturn and the new labor contract law, according to the Supreme People's Court.
The southern boomtown Guangzhou reported 10 percent more mass labor disputes (involving more than 30 workers each) in the fourth quarter than the third quarter in 2008 and the figure was 4.4 percent more in January than in December.
The southern export-oriented city of Dongguan reported about 66,000 job cuts after the Spring Festival (on Jan. 26 this year). About 440 factories are in an "unstable" condition, with 48,000 jobs hanging in balance, according to Dongguan Stability Maintaining Office.
"The pressure might be tough in the first and second quarters this year. Mass labor disputes might rise because of possible factory bankruptcy in the future, but it's not severe enough to cause large-scale riots," said Du Ganhong, deputy director of the office.
Dongguan Mayor Li Yuquan, also an NPC deputy, said the city was setting up an early-warning system to prevent mass incidents from happening. The city government was considering proposals raised by local lawmakers on this regard, including that labors receive their wages at local banks so as to prevent deliberate payment defaults by some entrepreneurs.
There have been concerns over the grave employment situation. Prominent Chinese economist and political advisor Li Yining said creating jobs should be the country's top priority this year.
Chen Shu, a Guangzhou-based lawyer and an NPC deputy, has suggested the country to establish funds to cope with risks that the bosses may run away while defaulting unemployment compensation.
"We should repair the house before it rains," he said, adding unemployment compensation defaults often cause mass incidents.
Premier Wen Jiabao told nearly 3,000 legislators Thursday at the NPC session that in this developing country with a population of 1.3 billion "maintaining a certain growth rate for the economy is essential for ... ensuring social stability."
(Xinhua News Agency March 3, 2009)