Wages tumble as Chinese workers hunt factory jobs

Fri Feb 20, 2009 5:53am EST
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CHANGPING, China (Reuters) - Scarce jobs, falling wages, sputtering assembly lines and labor scams are some of the rising problems faced by millions of Chinese migrant workers struggling to weather the downturn in export hubs like Guangdong.

Twenty million workers have lost their jobs in Guangdong alone as economic growth has slumped, but flareups of social unrest have not materialized since workers began returning en masse in early February from the Chinese New Year holiday.

Migrants are focused on economic survival -- scouring factory towns for jobs, lowering expectations, living frugally and awaiting an easing of the deep export slump that has shuttered thousands of factories as the global economic crisis worsens.

"It's not long after the Chinese New Year, so many workers are still busy looking for work. Only if they fail to find work over the next few weeks and months might we see more strain," said Liu Dejun, a labor rights activist based in Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong.

But in typical Chinese factory towns like Changping, around three hours drive from Hong Kong, the strains are building.

Jobless migrant workers laden with baggage abound, trudging along dusty roads or slumped at kerb sides. Dingy make-shift hostels are sprouting up to accommodate jobless drifters, with large billboards advertising beds for as little as 5 yuan ($0.70) a night.

Ad-hoc job recruiters with small desks are setting up shop on street corners, while large groups of workers seem to appear out of nowhere at factory gates before recruitment drives.

"They offer 770 yuan ($112) a month here, which isn't much, but I'm relying on working overtime to make up for this," said a pig-tailed girl from Sichuan surnamed Xu, who was chasing a handful of jobs at the Global Green Tech Group factory along with dozens of other women. That figure is the minimum wage.

Beijing's Communist Party leadership has issued repeated warnings that legions of idle rural workers could pose a threat to social stability.   Continued...

<p>A migrant worker walks past a truck with his belongings over his shoulder as he walks through the town of Xichuan, Henan province February 18, 2009. REUTERS/David Gray</p>