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Labor shortage worsens as migrant workers stay home

By Chen Xin (China Daily)

08:02, February 19, 2013

Inland provinces are holding job fairs to attract migrant workers home to work, leading enterprises in coastal manufacturing hubs to fear increasingly serious labor shortages.

A job fair in Huaibei, Anhui province, proves a popular attraction on Monday and may mark a turning point in the economy. The city used to supply large numbers of migrant workers, but many are opting to stay after Spring Festival, creating a labor shortage in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. (Photo/China Daily)

Zhang Hongbo returned to his hometown Nanchong in Sichuan province for Spring Festival and decided not to return to his job in Guangzhou, Guangdong province.

Zhang, 35, had worked in Guangzhou as a mechanic for more than 10 years.

"I believe I can find a perfect job in Nanchong due to my experience," he said. "The main reason for my decision to work at home is that I want to take care of my child and parents."

Zhang said he had contacted several local enterprises about their employee needs.

Zhang also plans to attend a job fair, which will be held on Thursday at a local industrial park, to see if they can provide a position that matches his skills.

Luo Deguo, who is in charge of employment at Jialing Industrial Park, said nearly 60 enterprises will offer some 2,000 positions at the job fair.

"More than 3,000 people are expected to attend the job fair," he said.

Luo said more than 100 workers have visited or called his office asking about job opportunities every day since Feb 14, the fifth day of the Lunar New Year.

In Yichang, Hubei province, labor authorities hope to retain returned migrants by holding 57 job fairs from Spring Festival until the end of March, providing nearly 40,000 jobs.

In southwestern Chong-qing municipality, more than 30 job fairs will be held this week to help migrant workers find a job at home. Shopping malls, restaurants and enterprises in fields such as electronic device manufacturing and real estate are major job providers.

There are more than 250 million migrant workers in the country, and many of them leave home for other provinces to earn a living.

In Chongqing, among 9 million farmers-turned-workers, 4.1 million worked outside the municipality in the first nine months of 2012, according to local labor authority.

As inland provinces' efforts to lure migrants are paying off, many enterprises in coastal regions are feeling the pinch to retain employees.

Zeng Hongwu, general manager of Guangzhou-based shoes and leather goods manufacturer Apples Industrial Corp, said his company has some 500 employees but is short by about 40 percent.

"More than 10 percent of workers have not returned after the Spring Festival each year since 2009. We've asked employees this year about their willingness to stay or not and 15 percent of them said they would not come back," he said.

Zeng said orders are expected to rise this year from 2012 and that would exacerbate the labor shortage.

"It is felt by almost all factories in Guangdong," he said.

Zeng said garment factories have already begun to relocate from Guangdong's Shenzhen and Dongguan to inland provinces such as Jiangxi and Henan due to lower costs, and he predicts that shoes and leather goods factories will gradually move to inland locations in the next three to five years.

"Till then, a larger number of migrants will go back to inland areas," he said.

Zeng said it's an opportunity for enterprises in coastal regions to shift from manufacturing bases to being more research and development oriented and more innovative so they can outsource orders to inland factories.

To offset the labor shortage, some enterprises in Wuxi, eastern Jiangsu province, are holding job fairs in Anhui province to vie for migrant workers.

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