The once cheap and seemingly inexhaustible supply of migrant labour from rural China is now a thing of the past as workers in the Pearl River Delta become more selective about the factories they work for. The populous delta region is experiencing a shortfall of about 2 million workers, 10 per cent of its total migrant workforce. Many manufacturers now have to raise salaries and improve working conditions to keep their workers. 'Employers now have to pay about 1,600 yuan [a month] to hire an assembly worker, provide free accommodation and social insurance,' said Xu Songyuan, a manager at a Dongguan clothing factory. Two years ago, hiring a migrant worker there cost only 800 yuan a month. About 15 per cent of orders in Mr Xu's factory have been affected by the labour shortage. He estimated one-fifth of his 600 workers would leave for the Yangtze River Delta region after the Lunar New Year. Some employers even bought return train tickets for workers who went home for the holiday, in an effort to ensure they returned. They also increased leave from seven to 13 days to avoid workers quitting because of insufficient travelling time. Billboards outside a job centre in Houjie township in Dongguan were plastered with leaflets advertising thousands of openings at local factories a month before Lunar New Year. The town, with 300,000 assembly workers and 37 industrial parks, is a national manufacturing hub in footwear and furniture. But factories have been hiring sooner in an attempt to ensure they have more workers for the coming season. Facing harsh competition, recruiters from Taiwanese contract electronics manufacturer Foxconn raised monthly salaries for assembly workers from 700 to 750 yuan and raised the hourly overtime wage in the holiday period 1 yuan to 13.47. 'We provide free uniforms, laundry service, dormitories with hot showers, transportation and compulsory social security. Workers can earn a maximum of 22,000 yuan a year with overtime,' said a Foxconn employee in charge of recruitment. Local manufacturers use offers of guaranteed on-time pay, free facilities and subsidised accommodation to attract workers. But alluring offers provided by employers from inland cities can be even more attractive. For example, a furniture factory in Shijiazhuang in Hebei province offers as much as 2,000 yuan a month for skilled carpenters. The amount is enough to hire a fresh graduate. 'The situation whereby young and eager workers poured in, desperate for work, no longer exists,' a recruiter from Dongguan Excelsior Technology said. He said smaller factories were the hardest hit. Their factory of 3,500 workers had to raise its base pay by 40 yuan to 720 yuan. Migrant workers now have bargaining power but many are choosing to leave the low pay and often miserable conditions in the Pearl River Delta nonetheless. Cui Yunxia, 23, said the high cost of living in Dongguan stopped her saving money. She works six days a week, 11 hours a day and earns about 1,500 yuan a month. She lives in a factory dorm with 15 other workers. Ms Cui expected offers in her home province of Henan would match her current wage and allow her to live closer to her family. Wage pressures caused by the current shortfalls undermine the Pearl River Delta's reputation as the world's leading low-cost manufacturing centre. Mainland media reported that more than 1,000 factories moved out of Shenzhen and Dongguan last year. Many manufacturers operate on thin profit margins and can't raise salaries greatly. Leung Ka-iu, 52, has decided to move his footwear factory to Vietnam next January, after operating his business in Houjie town for 18 years. He paid out millions of yuan to compensate 400 dismissed workers he had hired last year. Mr Leung said his business, with an 8 per cent profit margin, could not afford the soaring costs.