For nearly two decades, Nong Xiumei , 36, and her husband, Zhao Zhenrong , endured punishing conditions in the shoe factories of the Pearl River Delta. It was a time of 12-hour shifts, spartan accommodation and minimal time off. But in the end, it was not the gruelling work but a defaulting Russian importer that compelled the couple to head back to their village in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region six weeks before the Lunar New Year. The Russian buyer's failure to pay for consignments led the factory - which had employed Ms Nong for more than a decade - to shut its doors in November. Until the labour authorities intervened, it looked like the couple would not only lose their jobs but also their entitlement to three months of back pay and severance compensation. So the couple, along with their three-year-old daughter, recently returned to their home in the village of Baise , where they will try to survive on the 200 yuan (HK$225) a month they expect to earn from farming. Collapsing global demand and shuttered factories in the Pearl River Delta have transformed the once booming manufacturing hub that contributed so much to the country's economic growth. The factories are closing at the fastest rate in a decade and even veteran skilled workers like Ms Nong are being laid off. According to official figures, 8 million migrant workers have lost their factory jobs and returned to the countryside since the economic crisis broke. Another 2 million are looking for jobs in cities. Many of those who are still employed say they do not expect to have a job to return to after the holiday, which means they will find themselves competing with the millions of young workers who enter the labour market every year. 'We have lost our jobs and won't have any other income for four months before we get farming again next spring. I'll toss and turn in the Lunar New Year holiday,' Ms Nong said. With 200 yuan in hand from a Guangzhou philanthropist, the family of three decided that their trip home would have to be as cheap as possible. They decided against paying 210 yuan each for seats on a licensed bus for the 1,100km journey. Instead, they spent 24 hours, including nine hours waiting beside the highway, in transit using illegal coaches. The trip cost them 293 yuan. There was no room to stretch out during the bus journey, no emergency exit in case of an accident and the reek of sweaty feet and unwashed uniforms filled the claustrophobic vehicle. Migrant workers who had bargained even bigger discounts slept in the aisle on top of luggage and parcels. Profit-hungry coach drivers stayed at the wheel through the night without a break, even after spending all afternoon bargaining with passengers. Mainland coaches are notorious for their negligence of road safety. Last year at least 7,179 people were killed and 35,879 injured in traffic accidents on their way home during the 40-day Lunar New Year travel period. Most of the casualties were migrant workers travelling on long-distance coaches. Some operators of illegal coaches blame the overloaded vehicles and tired drivers on travelling workers who are not willing to pay the market price for tickets. 'We spent 1,500 yuan on fuel and another 1,000 yuan on highway fees for a single journey between Guangzhou and Baise. The profit is already slim when selling berths to workers for less than government-set fares, but laid-off workers say they still can't afford it,' one driver said. 'Driving overloaded and when we're tired is the only solution. We'll definitely go bankrupt if all coaches operate strictly according to the government's safety regulations.' Back in Guangxi, Ms Nong is not sure what her family will do when the money runs out. Uninsured migrant workers are not covered by the social welfare system and have an uncertain future with no pension, health care or unemployment insurance. 'We're the forgotten segment of society,' Ms Nong said. She is not alone in her plight. Her three younger sisters are not confident they will have factory jobs to go back to in Guangdong. 'They could be laid off after the Lunar New Year holiday because overseas orders have slumped and manufacturers are all considering manpower cuts. Some of them have been given social security benefits according to the labour law, but those benefits can't be transferred to their villages if they lose their jobs,' she said. Guangdong farmers leasing land to factories and providing cheap housing to migrant workers are also worried about the effects of layoffs. In Foshan , more than half of the cheap rental homes near industrial areas have been empty since October, when the exodus started. Cold, tired and chopping firewood for a hot bath after her family's journey, Ms Nong said she did not expect her 19 years in the delta's factories to end in such a miserable way. But there was one consolation. 'At least the whole family returned home safely.'