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December 4, 2010

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Labor shortage as migrants quit city

AN exodus of migrant workers from Shanghai is presenting the city with labor shortages in the service industry sector.

Soaring living costs combined with stagnant income growth is blamed for forcing workers to return home or try their luck elsewhere.

Migrant workers, especially those working at restaurants, household service companies and factories, on salaries of about 1,000 yuan (US$150) a month, are finding it increasingly difficult to cover basic expenses in Shanghai, where prices have been rising steeply.

Dong Xuemei, 34, from Chongqing Municipality, who works at a Japanese restaurant on Wujiang Road, complained about her low wages. "I can't afford 1 kilogram of ordinary fruit with an hour's pay."

Dong is paid an hourly rate of 7.8 yuan. If she worked overtime every day, her monthly income would be 2,000 yuan. Though the company offers two free meals a day, there's still little left after she pays for rent and other expenses.

"I want to go home during the Spring Festival, but I have no money," Dong said.

A one-way ticket for the Chinese New Year, which falls on February 3, costs 800 yuan. "I'd rather look for work near my hometown or start my own business," Dong added.

The Shanghai Restaurants Association said labor shortages were a continual problem. "Every year, the gap is about 20 to 30 percent," said Duan Fugen, secretary general of the association. "Pay is too low, but restaurants cannot afford higher rates because of rising raw material costs."

A small restaurant, Liubaiwan, on Maoming Road N., cannot find waiting staff. "The salary has been raised from 1,300 yuan to 1,600 yuan, but we still cannot recruit anyone," said waitress Li Mengzhu, a Henan Province native. Li herself does not plan to return to Shanghai after the Spring Festival.

Meanwhile, the local household service industry is warning that a shortage of ayis could hit the city soon after New Year's Day.

"Many people leave right after January 1, and do not return before February 18, the Lantern Festival," said Sun Shizhen, secretary general of the Shanghai Household Service Association. "Hiring an ayi during that period costs more."

Lantern Festival is the last day of the Chinese New Year celebration.

Zhao Jiande, an official with the Shanghai Human Resources and Social Security Bureau, said local enterprises are facing labor shortages of between 20 and 30 percent.

"We hope companies can increase their salaries - 2,000 yuan a month would be reasonable," said Zhao.

Corporations shifting production to other cities have also contributed to the loss of migrant workers, added Zhao.


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