Fear of unrest over rise in jobless migrant workers
China fears the destabilising effect of fewer jobs for transient workers, who keep country communities going, writes CLIFFORD COONANin Beijing
THE CHINESE government has revised upwards the number of out-of-work migrant workers from 20 million to 23 million since January’s Lunar New Year holiday, with 11 million of those who returned to cities still trying to find a job.
China’s economy is not in recession, but economic growth has slowed drastically on the back of a failing export market, hitting factories.
The government is worried about the potential for destabilising unrest among its migrant workers, most of whom work in the sectors most affected by the downturn, which include building, services and manufacturing for export.
Millions of former migrant workers are still in the countryside, trying to find work close to their home towns rather than venturing to the cities, the National Bureau of Statistics said.
China had 225 million migrant workers at the end of last year, of which 140 million worked outside the area in which they are registered, most of them in the rich cities of the eastern seaboard and Beijing. The remittances they send home are crucial to keeping communities going in the countryside. These have not benefited in the same way from the economic boom of recent years.
In January the government said 20 million migrant workers were out of work but the situation appears to have worsened since the Chinese New Year holiday.
The exodus from the major cities is visible in the main train station in Beijing, which is thronged with people waiting for trains. Liu Wanjing (37) is carrying a heavy bag holding his quilt, his rice bowl and other necessities, and he speaks in Shandong dialect.
“I came to Beijing 10 days ago. A Tianjin guy said he could arrange work for us. So myself and six other people from my village paid him 500 yuan to bring us to the jobs, but then he disappeared. I’m waiting for someone from my village who will hopefully help me find a job. I’ve brought my stuff, because if he can’t help, I’ll go straight to the bus station and back to Shandong – the train ticket is too expensive for me,” says Liu.
Like many migrant workers, he moves around a lot following work, and has worked on building sites in Qingdao, Zibo and other cities, while his wife, 13-year-old daughter and six-year-old son stay in Shandong.
“In the past few years, the economy has been good, I could earn about 80 yuan (€9) a day, and the sites would offer free accommodation. But this year, the economy seems bad. I don’t want to go back home as it means I spent money to come to Beijing in vain. I cannot return back, because farming won’t pay for my children’s education. That’s why I work away from home,” says Liu.
Wang Caiyun (44) and her niece are heading back to Anhui province after their work making furniture in Shenyang ended.
“We are here to change trains. We spent five years making furniture in Shenyang. Our husbands, because they are men, could earn over 1,000 yuan (€113) a month, sometimes nearly 2,000 yuan when the economy is good. But we are women, and the factories only paid us 800 yuan (€86) a month. After the Olympics, the economy has not been great. I don’t know what the situation in Shenyang is like, hopefully better,” says Wang.
In front of the railway station, Shang Delin is lying on his bags.
“I am heading for Shenyang to work as a plasterer. I have worked in Shenyang for over six years to earn money for my family. I do not have enough farmland, so I can’t go back. In our village, most young and middle-aged farmers left their home to work in the cities to earn money,” says Shang.