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February 8, 2013

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Migrants make best of holiday work

UNLIKE some migrant workers who are on duty over the Spring Festival in Shanghai, 21-year-old Wu Zuhong does not feel homesick.

In a black work suit and a red apron, Wu pushed a cart through a dining area of a downtown plaza this week, collecting plates and cleaning tables.

Wu, a Jiangxi Province native, is one of five non-local waiters of a hotpot restaurant who decided not to join 20 other waiters who are now on their way home.

"I just came to work in Shanghai three months ago. I am young and unskilled. I want to experience the city and live on my own," Wu said.

He has been working about five times more than last month, which he expects to continue due to labor shortages during the festival.

"Some of my colleagues didn't get a train ticket so they stayed. And others wanted to earn more money," Wu said.

Restaurant owners have been using higher pay and incentives to convince workers to say and recruit new ones.

At Wu's restaurant, pay during the legal holidays is tripled with extra commissions. The waiters will also be given five days off to see their families after the festival.

"I like flexible vacations. The railway tickets are not in demand and the trains are not crowded," Wu said.

"But for some people, tradition is tradition and the festival means more than just a family reunion," Wu said. "They deserve it because they had been lonely for a year."

Wu said besides working, he will take a tour to see the city and go to the cinema with his girlfriend on Valentine's Day, which falls during the Spring Festival holiday time.

Although many migrant workers have already left for home, recruitment posters still stand outside many restaurants, including the Hong Kong-style Tsui Wah Restaurant.

According to the poster, a waiter's salary at Tsui Wah is at least 2,300 yuan (US$369) per month. The restaurant also offers a free staff dormitory, free meals while working, paid vacation and training in Hong Kong.

"We have around 400 to 500 waiters at our Shanghai restaurant and 20 percent of them asked in January to take leave for the holiday," said a restaurant recruiter surnamed Ding.


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