Why are more workers in China leaving out factory jobs?

City says 7,000 summer jobs are available for Boston youth ages 14 to 18

Employees Work On Aluminum Products At A Factory In Eastern China'S Anhui Province.

Production is in progress at a factory in eastern China’s Anhui Province. Factory work has lost much of its popularity as a career choice. “The workers don’t trust the factory owners,” said a former employee.
STR/AFP via Getty Images

Over the past two decades, Zhang Xianfeng has dabbled in work as a movie extra and renovated homes. But he spent most of his time in factories manufacturing furniture and Apple iPhone accessories. These days he works in construction.

“I work nine hours a day. I earn 300 yuan [$44] Per day. “My job is to carry materials such as cement, glue and ceramic tiles,” Zhang said during a lunch break recently. “It’s better than a factory job because you don’t have to work overtime. Anyway, the pay is better.”

He’s not the only one who left the factories. Last year, 83% of Chinese manufacturers lacked hundreds or thousands of employees, accounting for 10% to 30% of their workforce, According to a survey conducted by the government consulting firm CIIC.

This is partly because China’s population declined for the first time last year and Its workforce has been shrinking since 2012. However, this should be partially offset by China’s high levels of unemployment after nearly three years of Beijing’s COVID-free policy. in January and February, The unemployment rate was 5.6%. In general, while Unemployment rose to 18.1% For people between the ages of 16 and 24.

Usually, when there are more workers than jobs, employers can be more selective. But that doesn’t seem to be the case for manufacturers in China. Zhang said job candidates are wary of that group of employers.

“Many factories deceive workers. They tell us that the salary is 25 yuan or even 30 yuan.” [$3.60 to $4.40] hour. Then, when we get to the factory, the real pay is lower or the work environment is horrible.”

The work environment has worsened under the policy of not spreading the Corona virus in China. To continue to produce products for the rest of the world, the factories operated a so-called closed-loop system where employees ate and slept on site.

Last fall, a wave of infections hit the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou, where Apple supplier Foxconn makes most of the iPhones.

“If you have a fever, your accommodation will be locked and you will not be given food or medicine,” said Hunter, who has worked for Foxconn repeatedly for the past decade. He only gave his name in English, fearing reprisals.

Foxconn did not address this specific claim, however In a statement to the media at the time, She said she was in a “protracted battle” taking care of her staff during the outbreak and asked for public understanding. In a statement to Marketplace, Foxconn emphasized that the health and safety of its employees has always been its “top priority.”

“Our Zhengzhou campus is very complex and requires strong management capabilities to adhere to [pandemic] Prevention regulations and normal production operation,” Foxconn added.

Just as iPhone 14s orders were pouring in, workers who feared for their safety They were streaming.

“Foxconn recruited some new workers from poorer provinces, promising them 30 yuan an hour plus bonuses,” Hunter said. “Perhaps the recruitment agencies or the job advertisements weren’t clear enough, but when the workers arrived, they found that the terms had changed.”

Anger and frustration — fueled by concerns about infected people working alongside healthy ones and the endless COVID quarantine — The workers were forced to protest and clash with riot police At the Foxconn factory in November. The company said it was “patently incorrect” that it had kept injured workers on site; he is too He blamed the payment problem on a technical error. The incident delayed delivery of the iPhone 14s.

Zhang Xianfeng at the Shanghai construction site where he works. He spent most of his working life in factories but now tries to avoid them. (Charles Zhang / The Market)

Many of the workers who spoke to Marketplace consider Foxconn better than some other factories, but conditions can be worse when manufacturers hire through staffing agencies. Labor advocacy groups say this method allows major global manufacturers and brands to avoid liability for potential labor abuses.

Recruiters like Jia Jin in Yunnan admit that there are some bad recruits, but he also argues that the workers have no loyalty.

“A lot of workers like to move from one factory to another looking for better offers. But the factories need stability or they will never complete the orders. My job is to help them,” Jia said.

He and his wife traveled across Yunnan Province looking for people to work in factories, without much luck. Jia said young people bear some responsibility for the high unemployment rate.

“Some young people, especially those who graduated from a good college, feel very embarrassed to take a job that is labor-intensive or where the salary is very low,” said Jia.

To earn more money, factory workers have to work overtime. However, just because they put in extra hours doesn’t mean they’re happy about it.

“Workers like to work overtime, not because they really like it but because the base pay is so low,” Hunter said.

Former factory worker Zhang said factories can’t find workers despite high unemployment for one main reason: “The workers don’t trust the factory owners.”

He added that he hoped he would never have to take a factory job again.

Additional research by Charles Zhang.