FAILING FARMERS FLOCK TO THE FACTORY FLOOR
A government-led initiative has helped impoverished rural workers find suitable jobs in cities. Zhang Zhihao reports from Yunxi, Hubei province.
Formanyruralpoor, thesolution in recent decades has been to become a migrant worker. However, millions of impoverished families similar to Qian’s typically lack the energy, skills and education to find a job.
In response, a four-month pilot program — the Labor Assistance Cooperation Initiative — spearheaded by local governments and companies from Hunan, Hubei and Guangdong provinces, set out to target each family’s situation and help them secure stable employment.
The other selected counties are Huayuan and Longshan, both in Hunan’s Xiangxi TujiaMiao autonomous prefecture, named for the region’s two prominent ethnic groups.
The primary drivers are the Bureau of Human Resources and Social Security, the Administration of Employment Services and the Office of Poverty Alleviation.
The program started in April and ended in August. An Aug 15 assessment report said the lessons learned will help when the initiative is expanded nationwide.
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Through a series of individually tailored arrangements and policy incentives, the governments helped impoverished rural workers to find the most suitable and stable work near their homes, or in Guangdong province.
Vice-premier Wang Yang proposed the program during a visit to Yunxi on Feb 25. Since then, thousands of government inspectors have visited the three counties to conduct detailed surveys, collecting information, from phone numbers to work experience, to store on an online database.
“Identifying the size of the available labor force, the status of migrant workers and each worker’s preferences may ensure that every rural worker finds the most suitable job,” saidWang Lupu, deputy director of the Hunan administration of employment services.
ChenWei, a 25-year-old from Sanyuan village in Yunxi, was recovering from a broken leg and needed to find work he could do sitting down. OnApril 8, the village Party secretary called Chen, told him he sympathized with his situation and encouraged him to participate in the county’s capital job fair later that month. He also sent Chen a list of companies to choose from.
For Yunxi workers, most of the companies came from Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Dongguan and Foshan in Guangdong, where demand for general workers is high. In addition, workers fromHuayuan and Longshan could also opt to work in Changsha, Zhuzhou andXiangtan inHunan.
The companies were handpicked by the governments of the outsourcing and destination cities, based on their record of corporate social responsibility and treatment of employees. The governments then matched workers with Qian Dayan,
from Yunxi county, Hubei province, found a job as a result of a poverty alleviation initiative
jobs, negotiated conditionsand organized recruitment fairs based on the hiring demands submitted by the companies or collected by human resources and social security officials.
“The government facilitates the employment process, and the market decides who to hire,” said Kuang Zoufei, deputy chief of Xiangxi prefecture. “The program will solve the companies’ labor shortages andpoverty in the villages. It’sa win-win situation.”
By August, the program had found jobs for 22,000 new workers from Xiangxi and 8,000 from Yunxi, according to theMinistry ofHuman Resources and Social Security.
The average monthly salary for those who chose to work in Changsha, Zhuzhou, and Xiangtan ranged from 2,000-4,000 yuan, while those in Guangdong earned between 3,000-5,000 yuan. “In general, one employee’s yearly earnings are enough to lift the entire family out of poverty,” Kuang said.
During the job fair, a company in Shenzhen signed Chen Wei to work on a production line — a seated job. “I tried to look for a job on my own and got swindled by recruiters,” he said. “Nowthe government has become the intermediary, I feel relieved and more secure.”
Four months later, Qian Dayan joined the same company as a production logistics worker. “I can finally take care ofmyself andmy family again,” he said.
Learning to assimilate
Despite the program’s efforts to find the best matches, it’s still a challenge to keep workers. Shenzhen took 201 new rural workers during the pilot program, but the number had fallen to 126 by August, according to the assessment report.
Sunwoda, a battery manufacturer in Shenzhen, hired 41 workers from the program, but only 28 remained by September. A lack of familiarity with factory life was the main reason the workers returning home, according to Li Zhangyi, Sunwoda’s director of human resources.
“Unlike the flexible working hours on a farm, factory life is routineandrigidly scheduled,” he said. “Half of the dropouts had no previous experience of working in a factory, so it was difficult for them to adjust.”
In response, Yunxi organized training courses to teach prospective migrant workers about etiquette, working environments and rights awareness in Shenzhen.
Changsha, a popular destination for Hunanese workers, opened telephone hotlines, websites and social media platforms to provide counseling and ask workers about their employment status.
Xiangxi established service centers throughout labor destination cities and offered assistance in data collection, job transfers and labor-rights protection. “We want our workers to feel like they are at home when working in foreign places,” said Shi Yaohua, the head of Xiangxi’s human resources and social security bureau.
Companies also provided daily necessities, city tours and gatherings to help new workers assimilate.
Ding Xiuli, 44, became a cleaner at Shenzhen’s Western Felicity Hotel after attending a job fair in Yunxi. She recalled theday thecompany took her to see the ocean for the first time.
“It was so beautiful and I had the time of my life,” she said. “Now, I feel like I really belong here.”
Workers make brooms at the Hengda Broom Specialized Cooperative in Yunxi county, Hubei province, on Sept 5. Most of the company’s employees are left-behind women, seniors and disabled people.
Jia Rongshan, a 52-year-old with a spinal deformity, works as a broom maker for the cooperative.