BEIJING - A group of migrant workers know what "returning home with glory" means after they were seen off in a farewell ceremony staged by an organization pledging to protect their interests and city leaders.
The 200 migrant workers, all from Central China's Hubei province, having worked at a subway project in Beijing, were sent home in a ceremony held by the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) and the Beijing municipal government on Sunday.
Before getting on the train heading for Shiyan at 5 pm, each worker received a free health checkup, watched a movie and was presented auspicious couplets written by calligraphers.
"I've not seen my 7-month-old baby for half a year. I'm excited that I can go home today," said Cao Xiangjun, a 29-year-old Shiyan native who has been working in Beijing for seven years.
"The thought of meeting my family members soon makes me forget all the bitterness that I've endured over the past year," he said.
Another worker, Wang Jilin, who toiled in Beijing with his son and daughter-in-law, said he was glad to take his 2-year-old granddaughter home first before the young couple could go home several days later.
"My wife and daughter are in the hometown. To go back home once a year is my biggest wish," he said. "A train ticket means a lot to me."
To get a ticket home around the traditional Chinese lunar new year is not easy. It is particularly difficult for the farmer-turned workers, for whom the only way to get a train ticket is to shiver outside a railway station in a long queue.
Wang Yujie, director of the subway project that the 200 migrant workers have been working for, said the municipal trade union and transport department had helped the workers to obtain their tickets.
Wang said there are about 400 workers at his construction section, adding that another 200 workers will stay and continue working during the holiday, as the project is required by the local government to be completed earlier than scheduled.
"For those not going home, we will hold a lunar new year party for them," he said.
Huang Wei, head of the labor rights department at the Beijing municipal federation of trade unions, said there are about 4 million migrant workers in the city.
"We've cooperated with transport and social security bureaus to jointly set up an office to help them return home safely. We will find out how many workers need tickets and where they're heading," he said. A hotline has been opened for workers to help order group tickets, he added.
Huang said some 400,000 migrant workers used their assistance to buy tickets every year.
"We'll also work with labor bureaus to ensure that workers' pay is not delayed before they return home," he said.
Nationwide there are some 230 million migrant workers across China.
Zou Zhen, the ACFTU's social security department director, said on Sunday that they have helped more than 2 million migrant workers gain tickets home so far this year.
Zou said in December that trains, buses and flights would be chartered to ensure that workers can return home.