Chinese Migrant Workers' Salary

Posted 2009-3-7


Zhang Xiongshen sits idly at a job fair in Dongguan, a migrant-intensive factory hub in Guangdong Province. He has failed to find a job after looking for two weeks.

The factory technician has just applied for a job at a hardware company, but he's not pinning his hopes on it. "In the interview this afternoon, I will have to compete with 50 or 60 other applicants."

Like Zhang, Chinese migrant workers are feeling the impact of the global financial crisis as job vacancies dwindle and salaries slump.

About 20 million migrant workers, 15 percent of the total, had lost their jobs, the government estimated last month.

Jobs do exist, but pay levels have plunged. Zhang, 28, a factory technician, earned almost 3,000 yuan (428 U.S. dollars) a month before the crisis. Now it's hard to find a job paying 1,500 yuan a month.

"I have to lower my expectations from 1,500 to 1,200, then to 1,000. And 800 yuan is a minimum to survive in the city."

"This year it will be too hard to earn money," he says.

Guangdong, a labor-intensive manufacturing hub, had been a key destination for migrant workers, but jobs disappeared along with declining export orders. China's exports dropped 17.5 percent in January from a year earlier.

Tan Fanghua, 26, plans to raise cattle in his hometown in Hunan Province after failing to find work in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province.

"You can never get rich as a migrant worker. You have to start your own business," Tan says. "I worked to save money to start my own business and will start raising cattle later this year."

Premier Wen Jiabao encouraged migrant workers to start their own businesses in an online chat with the public on Feb. 28 and promised training and preferential tax policies for migrant workers.

Henan has pledged 1.5 billion yuan in small loans for start-ups. Other provinces that are home to large numbers of migrants, such as Sichuan and Anhui, have promised similar assistance.

Li Jiankang, 43, from Hunan, has distributed bottled water for eight years and earns 1,800 yuan a month. "The job is increasingly harder as I get older. I don't have skills and can only get laboring and low-paying jobs."

He doesn't plan to stay in the city for long. "I plan to start a business in my hometown with the money I saved as a migrant worker," he says. "No one enjoys living in the city, while his wife or children stay behind in the countryside."

But he is uncertain as to what business he should start. "Just a business that can earn money, maybe a commodity wholesaler in my hometown."

Most young migrants want to get experience first. Gao Liping, 20, from Jiangxi Province, is looking for work at a job fair in Dongguan. She graduated from a vocational college last year.

"It's OK if the start salary is low as long as I can learn something. I'm young and don't panic much," she says.

Her young age does not necessarily give her an edge. "Some high-paying jobs demand experience. I have to start somewhere to get experience."

Employers can be choosy. "Usually we don't hire people who are too young. They are prone to job-hopping and might leave after a month. We prefer those a little more senior, or with a family to support so they are more stable," says Feng Chunming, head of Ruifeng Wood (Shenzhen) Company.

Zhang is under pressure to get a job to support his family of three, including his newborn son and his jobless wife. He is ready to settle for low-paying jobs. "I have to keep my stomach filled first," Zhang says.

"A man has to get up with some hope.... Three or four setbacks are OK. But if the frustration continues, you just feel numb...."


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