Migrant workers in China complemented the local urban labour market until the end of the 1990s, working in professions and jobs not favoured by local urbanites. Segregation between migrant workers and local urbanites occurred mainly through institutional constraints and the legacy of the hukou system.
Metropolises were the main destinations for migrant workers, and governments restricted local enterprises from employing non-local workers, with the result that migrant workers tended to be employed in mostly labour-intensive or agriculturally relevant industries. City-based state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and collective enterprises were least likely to employ migrant workers. This study examines enterprises in three metropolises of China in 2008.
This paper discusses the changes to migrant workers’ employment opportunities and predicts the future trend of segregation in the urban labour market. The paper argues that the migrant workers’ role is changing from one of complementarities to a mixture of complementarities and substitutions in the current urban labour market.
Newly emergent ownerships, including joint ventures, joint-stock and listed enterprises, employ a high percentage of migrant workers. Though the SOEs are still not very open to migrant workers, the employment of incremental migrant workers indicates that access is becoming less restricted.