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Labor shortage hits cities as holiday nears

By Wu Ni (China Daily)

08:50, January 18, 2013

He Jiajing, a mother from Shanghai, has been frustrated by her hunt for a nanny over the Chinese New Year.

She has a domestic helper to clean and cook for her, plus a nanny to help take care of her 4-year-old and 10-month-old sons, but both helpers will return to their hometowns in Anhui and Heilongjiang provinces for at least 10 days over the Spring Festival holiday.

"I have tried to find nannies who are natives of Shanghai, but failed. They also need to get together with their families," He said.

Worried about grappling with work, children and house duties without a helping hand, the family of four has now decided to go to Sanya, the warm southern beach city in Hainan province, for the holiday.

Big cities in China experience an annual service worker shortage during Spring Festival because service providers, who are often migrant workers, return home for family reunions over the holiday.

The periodic shortage has left urban families with a pressing need to find domestic help, especially to take care of babies and the sick and elderly.

Domestic service agencies in Shanghai have received extra requests for domestic helpers or nannies during Spring Festival, which falls on Feb 10 this year.

Xia Jun, general manager of the Shanghai-based Aijun Home Service, said the company has received bookings for services during Spring Festival since early January.

"In Shanghai, we are receiving about 40 to 80 bookings for Spring Festival services every day and are expecting more in the next few days," Xia said.

The company has about 20,000 service workers in Shanghai, 80 percent of whom are migrant workers.

Xia said the company has tripled hourly wages for casual workers during the Spring Festival holiday because of the extra demand.

The normal monthly salary for a domestic helper is between 3,000 ($482) and 5,000 yuan while casual workers earn between 15 yuan and 30 yuan per hour.

Despite being enticed by a higher pay, many domestic helpers still choose to go home rather than stay in cities.

"Basically, about 70 percent of our staff will go home and the rest will be booked in advance," said an employee at Shanghai Achieve-Easy Housekeeping Services.

Many of the large army of city couriers are also heading home. Chen Mingqiang, at the delivery firm YTO Express, manages about 100 couriers in Shanghai's Huangpu district. He said about 60 percent of his couriers will return home.

"We persuade those workers who find it difficult to buy tickets home to stay in their jobs and arrange for them to take a vacation after Spring Festival," Chen said.

"The couriers can cope with the work if they are well-organized and they can earn an extra 100 yuan per day," he added. Most couriers of YTO take a 15-day break during the festival.

The catering industry also sees a shortage of workers during the busiest period of Spring Festival. About 80 percent of the staff at the restaurant chain Shanghai Min are from outside the city, according to Arica Huang, a senior manager of the company's public relations department.

"We reward our employees who recommend friends and relatives for work in the peak season and raise allowances for frontline staff," Huang said.

The company has booked workers in advance from service agencies to help fill the holiday staff shortage.

Statistics from, an online platform that offers classifieds, shows that since December 2012, the nationwide demand for cooks and nannies during Spring Festival increases dramatically.

Li Dajing, director of the Beijing Homemaking Service Association, said the association will launch 50 hotlines from Friday to accept applications from local service workers or university students who want to do casual labor during the holiday.

Li said the domestic-helper shortage is less severe than in previous years because the rising wages over the period has restrained demand. Many families find it hard to afford help, as nannies with a salary lower than 2,500 yuan per month are rare.

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