Mass influx of migrants triggers job fears inland

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 December, 2008, 12:00am

Up to 9 million migrant workers have left coastal areas this year amid diminishing job prospects and falling wages, prompting fears that unemployment in inland provinces may increase sharply next year.

Home-bound migrant workers have packed major railway stations in major cities, catching the central government by surprise because the traditional passenger peak arrives just before the Lunar New Year, which is late next month.

Investigations by three central government bodies revealed a gloomy picture of a reverse labour flow that is almost unprecedented in recent history.

The first figure for the exodus, produced by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security early last month, was 7 million people.

The Ministry of Agriculture yesterday raised it to 7.8 million.

After a quick survey of Sichuan , Henan , Anhui , Hubei and Hunan this month, the National Bureau of Statistics estimated that the maximum number of rural returnees was more than 9 million.

The figure accounts for just 7 per cent of the country's total migrant workforce of 130 million, but labour authorities in inland regions have begun to worry.

An official at Jiangxi's Labour and Social Security Department confirmed that the influx of returnees occurred much earlier this year and government job fairs were bursting with job seekers.

'Most of them are looking for a short-term job, to work for one or two months, and then they will quit to enjoy the Lunar New Year,' the official said.

'Only when the festival ends will farmers begin seriously looking for a job.

'But our fear is that many will lose interest in going to Guangdong or Shanghai because of the global financial crisis. The central government has ordered us to closely monitor the situation and prepare for the worst.

'Stability will be gone if so many people are suddenly unemployed.'

Stories about farmers who returned to the countryside and became rich and famous with a spark of entrepreneurship have filled mainland media recently.

But an article yesterday by a migrant worker about the difficulty and risk of doing business in the countryside hit the headlines of, the biggest website dedicated to the rights and interests of migrant workers.

The article said migrant workers had few options to make a living when they returned to the countryside: they could either grow fruit, raise animals, sell vegetables or go into rural tourism if they were close enough to the city.

Even these limited number of business models contained high entry barriers and risks that could quickly deplete the returnees' hard- earned money, the article said.

It pointed out that government bureaucrats who oversee rural businesses were difficult, expensive and time-consuming to deal with, while the market for agricultural products was volatile.

In addition, most returnees had no business experience.

'The best thing returnees can do in this economic crisis is spend time with their parents, taking care of their children and reclaiming a sense of community that they have lost in the past,' the article suggested.

'Let's take a rest and wait for opportunities.'