A recently published report by the All-China Federation of Trade Union (ACFTU) explores the differences between the new generation of migrant workers in China and their parents’ generation, in terms of their backgrounds, their work-life expectations, and their awareness of labour rights. The report by the ACFTU comes in the wake of the spate of worker suicides at the enormous complex operated by iPhone maker Foxconn in the southern city of Shenzhen. The suicides as well as recent strikes at foreign run carmakers have drawn attention to the intolerable stresses many young workers face in factory complexes. The ACFTU report does not mention the unrest but refers to worries about social instability.
A recently published report by the All-China Federation of Trade Union (ACFTU) (in Chinese) explores the differences between the new generation of migrant workers in China and their parents’ generation, in terms of their backgrounds, their work-life expectations, and their awareness of labour rights. The report by the ACFTU comes in the wake of the spate of worker suicides at the enormous complex operated by iPhone maker Foxconn in the southern city of Shenzhen. The suicides as well as recent strikes at foreign run carmakers have drawn attention to the intolerable stresses many young workers face in factory complexes. The ACFTU report does not mention the unrest but refers to worries about social instability.
In article for AP Tini Tran comments upon the ACFTU report (June 22, 2010):
The study was conducted in 10 cities from March to May, though the report didn't say how many workers had been interviewed. The average younger migrant worker was aged 23, had finished middle school education, and 80 percent were unmarried, it said. It characterized the younger generation — known as the "post-80s generation" — as more willing to file complaints when their rights are violated and less fearful of retaliation than the older generation. The study noted that younger migrant workers "are more aware of equality and rights," and have higher expectations of getting equal jobs, labor and social welfare, education, and other basic public services. It said they are "showing a higher willingness of defending their rights." According to the surveys taken by the national union, only 6.5 percent of the younger workers said a fear of retaliation would prevent them from filing complaints, compared with 13 percent of their older counterparts.
The report said resolving the problems facing the new generation of migrant workers was important to avoid social unrest. "The accumulation of these demands and problems has begun to have negative effects on our country's political and social stability and sustainable economic development," it said.
Though the government hasn't intervened, China's leaders have shown concern over the labor unrest that has roiled companies in recent months. Premier Wen Jiabao last week urging better treatment for China's legions of young migrant workers.
Tactics and strategies for making complaints were also more sophisticated, the report said. If they do raise grievances, nearly half the younger migrant workers file joint complaints, while only 28 percent of their older counterparts said they would.
Jeremy Prepscius of BSR reflects upon the ACFTU article in a blog on the BSR site (June 30, 2010):
The article presents several startling statistics: Over 61 percent of the total migrant-worker population in Chinese cities (over 150 million people) is between 16 and 30 years old, indicating the potentially huge social impact these workers will have on the business environment. This new generation of workers is also less willing to return to their rural hometowns for agricultural work, since 89.4 percent of the young generation does not have agricultural experience—a result of following their parents to the city during childhood. Also, 55.9 percent of the young workers aspire to settle down in the city and own property. This new generation has a greater awareness of their rights and therefore higher job expectations. Besides wages, they are also more concerned with other benefits such as employment contracts and social security insurance, the safety of their working environment, the company’s reputation, and opportunities for self and skill development.
Besides different attitudes, experience, and expectations, the younger workers are also taking a more “active approach” to addressing these issues, as seen in the recent wave of strikes to hit China’s automobile industry. These strikes indicate that business will likely face pressure from both workers and the government. On one side, company management is likely to face pressure from the workers for higher wages and other work-related benefits and rights, and, on the other side, the government is likely to strengthen its policy and legal supervision to protect the rights of these workers in order to maintain social stability.
To continue to thrive in this pressurized environment, companies will need to think more about what their workforce expects rather than what the minimum compliance requirements are, and begin to revise their employment terms and conditions offered to these workers. Wages and working conditions are key; however, opportunities for training and career development, workers’ psychological needs, and health and safety issues will also require more attention. In short, as the Chinese worker modernizes, the employers and workplaces will need to pay attention and keep up as well.