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Migrant workers not happy about living in Shanghai

By Dong Zhen  (Shanghai Daily)

08:13, April 26, 2012

CHINESE migrant workers say Shanghai is one of the places where they feel least happy, according to a survey by Beijing-based Tsinghua University.

Soaring living costs in the city and the lack of ways to merge into the local culture are main causes of their frustration, according to some migrant workers in the city interviewed yesterday.

There are some 4 million migrant workers in Shanghai - about 40 percent of the city's total employed population. China has more than 240 million farm laborers who have left their hometowns to work in the cities.

But due to rising living costs and the attraction of booming labor markets elsewhere, Shanghai is suffering a shortfall of migrant labor, according to the city's human resources watchdog. It's especially difficult to retain younger people, local employers say.

"The entry-level jobs at construction sites now pay about 5,000 yuan (US$793) a month at our company," Guo Daohua, a worksite supervisor with Shanghai Road and Bridge Group, told Shanghai Daily. "But it's still difficult to attract the young migrant workers born after 1985."

Guo, himself a migrant laborer from Sichuan Province who has worked on construction sites for eight years, said young workers were more sensitive to the harsh outdoor work environment and the long hours involved in working and commuting to work.

Some workers from the company said they seldom had time to communicate with local residents, given the busy work and the long distances from construction sites to downtown areas.

Shanghai is losing migrant laborers to western regions, where massive numbers of major construction projects are springing up. Living costs at these lower-tier cities are far less than in Shanghai, adding to their lure.

Shanghai was placed 18th in a list of 20 Chinese cities in the survey that have a big demand for migrant workers. It was trailed only by Dongguan and Shenzhen, both in Guangdong Province, which were 19th and 20th.

"A major reason that depresses the local migrant workers could be the financial pressure stemming from Shanghai's high living cost. And they may also feel the lack of equality in job opportunities and the difficulty of being understood by the Shanghai local communities," said Sang Biao, a psychology professor with East China Normal University in Shanghai.

"How a group feels they are accepted by fellows in the same society also determines their degree of life satisfaction," Sang said.

Shanghai was last among cities in its support for migrant workers, the survey found.

Tsinghua University worked with a human resources website targeting migrant workers and interviewed more than 2,400 across the country.

It showed that 30 percent of them felt alienated from the urban societies where they worked, and 23 percent said they planned to leave their current city and find jobs elsewhere.

"They are like deserters from village life and lonely birds in the city," said researcher Li Jiuxin.

Li said younger migrant workers had higher expectations of city life than their parents had, and wanted to settle down in cities. Consequently, they tended to feel frustrated more easily by their isolation from the local community.

Quanzhou, a second-tier city in southeast China's Fujian Province, was the place where workers were happiest, partly due to lower inflation and a higher degree of acceptance by local residents.

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