Few Lunar celebrations for jobless in China

LANKAO, China – Beaten, cheated and underpaid in cities, rural migrant worker Cheng Wenlong trekked home for the Lunar New Year with no job and few plans to celebrate China’s most important holiday.

By (AFP)

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Published: Mon 26 Jan 2009, 9:20 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 2:59 AM

“I was not able to bring home anything. What’s the point of celebrating?” said the 19-year-old who is meant to be the main money earner for his family after his father died in a road accident eight years ago.

Cheng would not normally return to his home village in central China’s Henan province until just a few days before the Lunar New Year, delaying his homecoming until the last moment in an effort to earn a little more money.

But this year he came back three months before the week-long holiday, which begins on Monday, after losing his job as a welder at a shipyard in the eastern city of Taizhou as foreign orders collapsed amid the global economic crisis.

“There is just no work there now,” he said.

Millions of people are similarly suffering in China as they spend the Lunar New Year—traditionally a time for family feasts, fireworks and fun—soberly contemplating how they will find work after the holiday.

There are more than 130 million migrant workers from provincial and rural areas of China, like Cheng’s home county of Lankao, who travel to the cities in search of work.

For years, businesses that exported a myriad of products overseas soaked up much of this labour, but tens of thousands of factories have closed in recent months as the global economic crisis has hit China harder.

The government said last week around six million migrant workers had returned home after being laid off as China’s economic growth slowed sharply.

Cheng’s hometown is feeling the impacts harder than most.

Lankao is one of China’s poorest counties and roughly 200,000 of its 800,000 people went looking for work in the cities across China last year, according to local government figures.

Cheng’s plight is depressingly familiar for the people of Lankao.

He quit school at the age of 14 to join the floating mass of migrant workers, and has since toiled as welder, labourer and a security guard in seven cities including Beijing and the southern manufacturing hub of Dongguan.

Beatings and other forms of abuse were just part of the job, Cheng said, as he recalled a factory boss punching him repeatedly after he complained when told he would be paid just 10 yuan (1.5 dollars) for making 1,000 pens.

He had to finish the job after his beating, and was not paid at all.

“Sometimes I feel God is unfair to me,” Cheng said, looking at the ground as his mother and grandmother stood sadly alongside him in the street outside their ramshackle brick home.

“I’m bullied and exhausted.”

For Bi Binbin, also 19 and from the same village as Cheng, New Year is nearly as depressing after he resigned a month ago from his job on an assembly line for a major Taiwanese computer company in eastern China.

As orders dried up due to the global slowdown, so did Bi’s essential overtime and his monthly salary dropped from 2,100 yuan to 700, which was not enough to cover living expenses.

“That’s the way they get rid of people. They never cut jobs, they just do not offer extra work, which means the salary is ridiculously low and you have to quit,” Bi said.

Nevertheless, Bi will head back to eastern China in search of another factory job after the New Year holiday, saying his home town offered him no future.

Indeed, the county resembles more a desert than a farming area and locals said they were worried their spring harvest crops would be ruined this year due to water shortages exacerbated by upstream dams.

Another Lankao resident, Zhang Yongqing, 55, will also head off in search of work in a few weeks, despite making fruitless trips last year to three cities.

Zhang said he used to earn 10,000 yuan a year as a labourer on construction sites and, even though chances of landing a job seem more bleak than ever, he had little choice.

“Unlike people in the cities, we don’t have social security. And we can’t just count on our son because he is not rich either. So I plan to work in the cities until I am at least 60 years old,” he said.

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