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February 2, 2012

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Home » Metro » Education

Why migrant workers are shunning the city

EXAMINING a colorful job recruitment flyer just handed to him, Huang Shao stood in the chill of late afternoon in the south square of Shanghai Railway Station.

"Me? I don't want the job," 21-year-old Huang told Shanghai Daily. "I've already got one, but not here in Shanghai."

A decorator by trade, Huang has been working since leaving his hometown in central China's Sichuan Province at 16.

"I could never study well at school, so I went out and did my own thing," said Huang.

However, Shanghai, the city closest to where Huang works, is not among his choices of places to seek work.

"It would cost me much more if I stayed here," he explains.

Instead, Huang was waiting to catch a train to neighboring Zhejiang Province, after completing a 38-hour train journey from Sichuan.

In Zhejiang's Cixi, Huang will live with six co-workers and their boss. Huang said he earns about 5,000 yuan (US$792) a month.

"I only spend 500-600 yuan a month in Zhejiang," he said. "Who will work for you if you pay less?"

Huang remembered in 2008, when heavy snow hit most parts in China and many migrant workers were unwilling to come back for work, his boss doubled wages to retain workers at the villa decorating company.

"I plan to work for a boss for another nine years," said Huang. "Maybe then I'll start my own business," he added, carefully folding the job flyer into a paper plane and tossing it into the air.

High cost of living

Huang is not alone among migrant workers in deciding that Shanghai is not for him. A city official warned yesterday that the city is facing a labor shortage as many migrant workers who went home for the Spring Festival holiday have decided not to return.

Many have been put off by Shanghai's high cost of living or because local employers are failing to meet rising wage demands, said Zhao Jiande, director of the migrant worker office under the Shanghai Human Resources and Social Security Bureau.

Yet the city's demands for labor intensive positions remains high, he added.

Shanghai has more than 4 million migrant workers employed by local companies and another 1 million who have their own small businesses, said Zhao.

With the rapid development in inland areas of China, many migrant workers are securing jobs in their hometowns on similar wages to those in Shanghai, said Lu Jiawei, director of the migrant worker office of the city's Putuo District.

Another factor is that a growing number of migrant workers in Shanghai are in their 20s. With a higher educational background than their parents' generation, they demand higher salaries and better working and living conditions than before, Zhao added.

"The city's labor market for migrant workers has changed. Migrant workers are now choosing their employers rather than being chosen, as was the case several years ago," said Zhao.

Bring together

The city government yesterday launched a campaign to bring together employers and migrant workers, but the first job fair of the annual "Spring Wind" campaign attracted barely 10 workers in Putuo District.

"I would receive at least 30 resumes in a morning in previous years, but only got four today," said Wang Binxing, a human resources official with a local medical facility company.

The company is recruiting electricians, painters and engineers and has increased wages to around 3,000 yuan per month, plus insurance for staff.

But many job seekers want more than 5,000 yuan, he said.

The average salary of Shanghai employees was around 3,896 yuan a month last year, according to local human resource bureau.

Wang said the company has been recruiting throughout the year as there is a severe shortage of staff.

Many young migrant workers were unwilling to take jobs they considered "menial," and for other positions, demanded high salaries plus meals and accommodation that few company could afford, said Wang.

Catering is among the sectors hit by migrant workers raising their employment sights.

Many migrant workers quit their jobs, left for home before the festival and will not be coming back to Shanghai, said Dai Yinghua, a human resources manager of a local chain restaurant.

Dai said business had been affected by shortages of waiters and waitresses.

"Young migrant workers are not willing to do the jobs. Instead, they want to work in sales or other office jobs," said Dai.

Job agents said a wide gap has developed between migrant workers' expectations and the wages actually on offer.

"The average difference is about 2,000 yuan a month between the expectations of migrant workers and what employers are willing to offer," said Zhou Jiewei, a local job agent for migrant workers.

The city's human resource authority has launched a training program for migrant workers to reduce the gap between the workers' wage expectations and their skills.

This aims to provide training for 15 percent of the city's migrant workers within three years, Zhao said.

The human resources and social security bureau trained 200,000 workers in 2011 and aims to train the same number this year.

But while the city seeks to better train migrant workers, some employers are just desperate to get recruits.

At Shanghai Railway Station square this week, several people carrying sheets of paper with the word "recruit" sought to get the attention of the arrivals in the city.

'Have a look'

"Come and have a look," said a man from a real estate agency in Baoshan District holding a sign, to those in the crowd who glanced his way.

"No academic background required, no age limit," read the recruitment advert. "The basic salary is 2,000 yuan per month; rest is commission; live in a worker dormitory."

Nearby, a man and woman from the same estate agency were trying to persuade a timid out-of-town young man, to join the firm.

"Young man, if you work hard, can earn more than 10,000 yuan a month," the woman told him.

A police officer approached and asked if they all knew each other, as the authorities are cracking down on illegal agencies.

On a nearby wall were pasted illegal agency adverts for jobs including drivers, electricians and welder, with salaries ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 yuan.

The officer ripped down the illegal agency advertisements and left, as the group disappeared into the Metro station.


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