By Paul Chung
Image credits: @Michael Steverson.
Many migrant workers are opting to stay home at the conclusion of the Spring Festival this year rather than making the journey back south or east.
Job fairs and promising employment prospects in China’s inland provinces are increasingly drawing migrant workers back to their hometowns. The longstanding rural-to-urban migration in recent years, also known as the largest migration of people from the countryside to city in history, appears to have tapped the breaks. In consequence, coastal industrial hubs like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou are feeling the labor shortage pinch.
According to a China Daily report, more and more job fairs aimed at luring migrant workers are popping up across the country, from Anhui province to Chongqing. In one interview, the manager of a Guangzhou-based shoe and leather goods manufacturer indicated that his labor force has been shrinking by the year.
“More than 10 percent of workers have not returned after the Spring Festival each year since 2009. We’ve asked employees this year about their willingness to stay or not and 15 percent of them said they would not come back,” he told the newspaper.
Migrant workers, long considered an integral cog in the rapid development and industrialization of China’s coastal cities, are commonly employed in the manufacturing and construction industries. They have long been disadvantaged by the Chinese household registration, or hukou, system that prevents them from accessing cities’ basic services like healthcare and education. Other times they may be subject to discrimination by city dwellers or have their wages withheld for no apparent reason.
According to government data, there were an estimated 252 million migrant workers in China in 2011, translating to nearly 20 percent of the national population.