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South China Feels Acute Labor Shortage

The Pearl River Delta, with Guangzhou -- the capital of Guangdong Province -- as its nucleus, has for years been an economic powerhouse in China. Millions of surplus rural workers once flocked to the south China region to find jobs, but now the area is facing a crisis: many farmers-turned-laborer are shunning the Pearl River and moving instead to the Yangtze River Delta, the northeast or western China, where wages are higher and conditions better.

Thousands of local enterprises in Guangdong report a combined need for at least 2 million workers if they want to operate at full capacity, according to an official with the provincial government.

Anhui Province is a major source of labor in east China. Railway authorities in the city of Fuyang said they handled more than 1.2 million passengers during the Spring Festival holiday last month. The number heading for Shanghai -- the economic hub of the Yangtze River Delta -- increased 30 percent year-on-year while those going to Guangzhou fell 20 percent.

The shift in the flow of migrant workers has caught the attention of the lawmakers and government advisers who are gathering in Beijing for their annual sessions this week.

Fang Chaogui, a deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, attributes the shift to the accelerated development in the Yangtze River Delta and China's western regions, and to the upgrading of the northeastern China industrial base.

"These regions are attracting an increasing amount of capital and workers, mainly in the labor-intensive manufacturing industries such as shoes, toys, garments and plastic products," said Fang, who is also director of the Guangdong provincial labor and social security office.

He added that the sharp increase in farming income last year also helped to induce many farmers to stay on the land instead of looking to the cities for work.

Professor Cai Lin of the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law said that the narrowing of the gap between urban and rural areas in the Yangtze River Delta also created a favorable environment for migrant workers.

In some of the cities in southern Jiangsu Province, said the professor, migrant workers are treated as "new urban residents", and offered such benefits as technical training courses. In Yixing, a "new urban resident community" has been established in the work units or districts with a registered migrant population of more than 1,000.

"All these measures have helped attract workers from outside," said Cai, who is also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

Many NPC deputies and CPPCC members also blame the south China labor shortage on the low wages companies there offer to migrant workers.

NPC deputy Chen Shu, also from Guangdong, said some factories offer a monthly wage that is barely above the government unemployment allowance, an amount based on the minimum standard of living. At the same time, the companies make their employees work long hours without providing any benefits.

"The migrant workers know where to go, and they leave the Pearl River Delta," Chen said.

To attract more workers, said NPC deputy Shi Heping from Jiangsu Province, the local governments should make efforts to protect the rights and interests of migrant workers, providing them with stable salaries and making them feel welcome.

(Xinhua News Agency March 3, 2005)

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