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A Chinese Worker Economic Observation through Making Christmas Products
Update: 9/19/2009 10:17:00 AM Source: Dongguan Hotels

Ni Xiaogang is scanning job information from ads posted at a state-level industrial zone in Shilou tow in south China's Guangdong Province.

Although unemployed, the 25-year-old migrant worker doesn't look anxious. Without being in a rush, he is expecting a new job with better money and working conditions.

Born in Weiyuan County in southwest China's Sichuan Province, a major labor-exporting province, Ni is one of the millions of migrant workers who leave the country's rural areas for work in the more prosperous coastal regions.

Because of the global financial crisis which hit China's export sector hard, he has to work for a factory in the past two months in a small town outside the Pearl River Delta, making low-price gifts, such as tiny Santa Claus toys and greeting cards for sales promotion in the Christmas season for the European and U.S. markets. At this time in previous years, a skilled worker like him was making fancy, high-priced Christmas gift dolls.

The global financial crisis had made 20 million unemployed migrant workers give up on life in the cities and return to their villages, said Chen Xiwen, director of the office of the central leading group on rural work, in February.

Facing a huge population of jobless, home-returning migrant workers, China's labor-exporting provinces used preferential policies to help them, including job-training programs, offering micro-loans and tax incentives to help migrants start small businesses at home.

As one of the 20 million, Ni went home as well. He tried to find a job in his hometown, yet he was disappointed to find out there were basically no good local toy companies. Being reluctant to give up his skills, he soon headed back to the coastal area.

"In the coming months, increasing demands for Christmas products from Western countries would probably do some help to restore the overseas toy market," said Ni. "It seems that life is becoming easier for us, I would like to take some time off and then go to Shenzhen to try my chances, for companies there offer better pay and working conditions."

Having just finished high school, Ni is clearly not an economist. But his real life experience in toy factories gives him a perspective on the peaks and valleys of market demand.

"The fluctuation in the European and American markets, as well as the country's economic policy adjustments, would impose a direct impact on my work and income," said Ni.

About 95 percent of 70 million homebound migrant workers have headed back to their work in cities after the Spring Festival, the most important occasion for family reunion in China, according to Wang Yadong, deputy head of the employment promotion department of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.

"As a result of efforts by the government, things are turning for the better," Chen Xiwen said at a news conference earlier this month. "Although hit by the financial crisis, China has a vast area and a huge market. We have a lot of room to turn things for the better."

Statistics showed that at the end of June the number of migrant workers working outside their hometown rebounded to 150 million, said Chen.

The figure was 130 million in February, Chen told a news conference in February.

A recent survey by the toy association of Guangdong Province showed that the toy companies in the province were suffering from a 10 to 30 percent shortfall of labor. It even reached 50 percent for some companies.

The sudden relief from the previous widespread concern about the huge unemployment population has drawn much attention.

Analysts attributed the "labor shortage" in the Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta regions, the country's major manufacturing bases, to temporary seasonal factors, such as Christmas consumption, rising domestic demand, jobs created by the country's huge investment in infrastructure projects and policies to encourage migrant workers to start small business in their hometowns.

However, economists believed that this round of "labor shortage" cannot necessarily prove that China's economy is expecting a full recovery in a short time.

Plenty of companies in Guangdong complained that a surge in orders, the industry was still at a low ebb compared with its heyday, and the profit was meager.

"In September, the production season for Christmas gift-related products, our company's export volume dropped 50 percent from a year earlier, and the price fell 20 percent which meant barely breaking even," says Fang Jianping, manager of a Guangdong-based lighting-fixture company.

As the market relies more on seasonal orders, the age of "temporary employment" is coming. Manufacturers would need more workers when the sales grow and would need to cut labor in the off-season, said Wang Kaiyu, a sociologist from east China's Anhui Province, who has been studying migrant workers for years.

Ni Xiaogang was told that toy factories in Shenzhen, an economic zone in the Pearl River Delta region, has seen a full-fledged recovery, offering 2,500 yuan (366 U.S. dollars) per month salary, much better than the 1500 yuan to 2000 yuan of pay in Guangzhou to workers.

"I am getting a fine job, because I have been working in the toy industry for five years. They need veterans like me", said Ni with confidence.

"I will be working where the orders are," said the young man.

Editor: canton fair

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