Workers return to bleak future in China export hub

Thu Feb 5, 2009 10:05am EST
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By James Pomfret

DONGGUAN, China (Reuters) - Train and bus stations in China's southern export hub are swollen with migrant workers returning from their annual holiday -- but the signs are not good for many hoping to find their factory open or seeking new jobs.

Fixated on social stability, China's ruling Communist Party is watching closely what happens in the Pearl River Delta, where thousands of factories have closed or slashed work forces because of a slump in export orders.

"How can I be optimistic?" asked Xie Fuyuan, a square-jawed job seeker, hauling two bundles of belongings at the bus station in Changan, one of the many towns in this wedge of Guangdong province where belching factories have replaced rice fields.

Xie said he had spent the past week trawling the streets of several factory towns in a door-to-door approach favored by poorer workers unable to afford rising fees at job centers.

"Before, as long as you showed up you could get a job. But this year it's not possible," said the muscular, 26-year-old Xie.

The competition for once-plentiful factory jobs is heating up among migrant workers, raising the risk of social tensions as millions arrive from distant villages after the Lunar New Year break, despite bleak employment prospects.

For the past three decades, the factory zones of coastal China have offered an escape from harsh and poor-paying farmwork for many millions of rural migrants. The industrial work can be tough and dangerous, with long hours for meager wages. But now even that passageway from rural poverty is shrinking.

Xie, who hails from a poor mountain village in western Guangdong province once earned around 1,200 yuan ($175) a month in a toy factory, which he used to support his family back home.   Continued...