A Chinese official says an estimated 20 million migrant workers have lost their jobs because of the global economic crisis.  This comes amid government warnings that rising unemployment could fuel social unrest. 

Official statistics compiled at the end of 2008 put the overall number of China's migrant workers at 130 million.   These are people who leave their homes, often in rural areas, to work in big cities where there are better job opportunities.

Chen Xiwen, director of the office that advises Chinese Communist Party leaders on policies affecting the country's farmers, said roughly 20 million migrant workers, or more than 15 percent, are out of work.

Demand for exports down

Chen says this is because the global financial crisis has caused what he described as "a slump" in external Chinese export demand in eastern and coastal parts of the country.

China's economy has plunged in recent months as a sharp decline in demand for Chinese-made goods, globally, has forced thousands of factories to close.

Chen said the matter is exacerbated because those who are out of work are also competing with six million others who seek to enter the migrant worker job market each year.

Government looking for ways to create jobs

Chen estimates a total of 26 million rural migrant workers are facing employment pressure.  He says the government is looking at ways to create jobs and ensure public welfare, as a way of promoting social stability.

The latest figures were based on a Ministry of Agriculture survey of 165 villages in 15 provinces.  The survey was conducted before the Lunar New Year holiday, which was celebrated the last week in January and is a time when people traditionally return home.

Chen's news conference in Beijing Monday comes one day after the government issued its first big policy document for 2009, focusing on rural development.

The document calls on the government to better address so-called "sensitive" issues - such as the unlawful requisitioning of farmers' land and pollution.  Chen said the document shows that China's Communist Party and government take very seriously the issue of rural migrant worker employment, as well as the importance of maintaining social harmony and stability.

Chen acknowledged there were recent incidents of mass demonstrations by unemployed rural migrant workers, in different parts of China.  But he said these protests happened largely because the lawful rights and interests of the rural residents were not well-protected.