“Migrant workers: Restlessness of a new generation”

FT- whose use of a paywall drives me crazy with fury- has an article here about how the attitude of migrant workers is changing with time:

In some ways, the new generation of migrants is luckier and better off than the earlier one. They not only earn more, but they can spend more of it on themselves and their advancement since their parents are less likely to live in poverty – the original generation of migrants helped to ameliorate that.

“The first generation left the village to make money and then come back to build a house,” says Liu Kaiming, head of the Institute for Contemporary Observation, which monitors workers’ conditions in Shenzhen. “Now, the family’s house is built and there are no jobs there. They go to the city for their future.”

As a result, they are less docile and harder to manage. Factories in the region commonly experience labour turnover of 10 to 15 per cent a month – or well in excess of 100 per cent a year. This generation does not find it so easy to settle.

“Fifteen years ago, if it was the third day after the new year holiday and you went over to the dormitories and said: ‘We have a heavy order, come to work,’ they would all do it. The company was the most important thing. These days if you told them the same thing, they would say ‘no’.”

Ms Cheng says the younger workers are, as the Chinese saying has it, “riding a donkey and looking for a horse” – they work in factories for money but are looking for opportunities.

Migrants are still bound by the hukou system of household registration, which excludes rural dwellers from education and social benefits in their adopted cities. It has also become very expensive to live outside factories that provide them with free dormitory accommodation and meals. Although they can see wealth and expensive property in the city, their opportunities are limited.

The government’s attempt to shift low-cost manufacturing into inland provinces is partly aimed at easing the problems of migrants. The idea is that they will be able to find work closer to home and not face the same isolation as in the coastal cities.

Yet young people will carry on coming to the Pearl River delta to seek not only money, but a better life. Unless factories or the government can fulfil those hopes, they will remain restless.

These are some of the groups that I’d be most worried about during a financial downswing if I worked in Zhongnanhai. They’ve been waiting for the ‘China miracle’ to makes it way back to them, but if they realize that there aren’t any plans for them to get a slice of the pie, and that Shaanxi coal mine owners are going to spend the next few generations riding around in black BMW’s while they cram into hard seat trains to go home… we’ll see what happens next.

1 Comment

Filed under inequality, migrant workers

One response to ““Migrant workers: Restlessness of a new generation”

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