Despite government figures to indicate China still has a
contingent of 150 million migrant workers awaiting to transfer from
rural to urban areas, signs have emerged to show that the country's
labor resources is on a trend of shrinkage.
Although southern booming
Guangdong Province has sucked up more than 19 million migrant
workers, its annual labor shortfall remained at two million.
Factories found it hard for them to employ migrant workers with low
income any more.
Shortfall of labor power has cropped up not only in coastal
booming towns, but in inland cities. Central China's
Henan Province, the country's most populous province, for
instance, has gone all out to expand textile and clothing
industries but the workforce in local textile and clothing mills
was only 70 percent of what they had expected.
A latest survey from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security
showed that in 2006, construction engineering and machine building
enterprises in prosperous coastal areas are willing to pay workers
at least 1,000 yuan (about 125 US dollars) per month, almost equal
to the local monthly salary of college graduates. But these
enterprises paid 600 yuan to workers every month three years
Han Jun, director of the Research Center of Rural Economy under
the Development Research Center of the State Council, said that 20
percent of the rural areas in China no longer have surplus labors
Xinyang City of Henan Province had 3.5 million rural laborers,
and 1.86 million of them, mostly young or middle-aged, had gone to
work in major cities. And the city hired at least 30,000 workers to
pick tea this year owing to intensive female labor outflow.
Cai Fang, a noted expert in the Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences, acknowledged that although there will not be a shortfall
of laborers in the absolute number of trades and industries in the
years ahead, the scarcity of laborers will be felt in some areas
and in some particular industries.
Since China initiated reform and opening-up policies in late
1970's, noted Prof. Wen Tiejun with elite Remin University in
Beijing, factories and enterprises, obtaining cheap land thanks for
governmental preferential policies and mainly engaging in
processing materials supplied by overseas clients, have mushroomed
in southern and eastern China cities.
The factories and enterprises reaped profits by capitalizing on
cheap land and labor resource, but did not establish their own
brands and intellectual properties, as they failed to inject enough
input into research and development. Therefore, overproduction and
excessive competition emerged in the country's manufacturing
industries. For the sake of survival, some factories kept the
salary at a low level for the rural migrant workers without buying
their social insurance, Wen said, adding that poor salary and
welfare system cooled the migrant workers' zeal for working in
And some rural labor began returning home because of poor
welfare system for migrant workers in cities.
Liu Shilong, a farmer in central Henan Province, said both of
his sons have come back tilting farmland after years of work in
cities, since they could not stand heavy workload any more in their
40's and their current farm work could earn as much as working in
China's labor resource shortage can be ascribed to another
factor: population aging.
In the past 25 years, China's economy maintained high-speed
growth thanks for sufficient labor force at their young and middle
age. But today, China's population aging has reached the world's
average level, while per capita GDP was merely one fifth of the
world's average level.
For instance, populous Henan Province now has 7.18 million
population aged 65 or above, taking up to eight percent of its
total population. In the next 20 years, its population will
continue to be fast aged.
The urgent task for the government is to increase rural
laborers' income and welfares, Prof. Wen acknowledged. "When we
enjoy the profits and bonuses brought by these laborers, we should
at the same time establish capital reserves to their support for
their old age."
(Xinhua News Agency May 29, 2006)