Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Trying to Keep it Together

The Chinese government has a gargantuan task on its hands.

It has to keep the economy going at the minimum 7.5 percent to 9 percent GDP growth in order to keep most people employed.

But with exports grinding to a trickle, thousands of factories in southern China are closing, leaving hundreds of thousands of migrant workers out of work when they should be working overtime to fill Christmas orders.

Local governments in Guangdong have had to pay the wages of laid-off factory workers whose foreign bosses fled without notice.

Learning from that lesson, provincial authorities in Shangdong and Hubei say that companies there that want to lay off 40 or more workers must ask for approval from the local human resources and social security authorities.

Basically that means no.

Some companies have resorted to either letting their workers go two months early for their Spring Festival holiday, or have cut their salaries -- some reported by as much as 75 percent. How can these factory workers be in a mood to celebrate or splurge for the holidays if they have no money?

Meanwhile, cab drivers in Chongqing, Sanya and a county in Gansu have had violent protests over what they claim are high taxi license fees, high fuel costs and too many illegal taxis taking away their business.

For the first time in a long time, the protests in Chongqing were actually called strikes in the Chinese media, and Communist Party boss Bo Xilai had to personally step in to negotiate with the drivers.

Each municipality or region only allow a certain number of taxis and these licenses are given to the taxi companies. Drivers must get the licenses from these companies and in return must pay what they consider to be high monthly fees for the priviledge.

As a result, some cabbies turn to driving illegal taxis which is more lucrative, but can also land heavy fines if caught. However, it seems many would rather take the chance than play it safe.

Nevertheless, during the Chongqing strike, some taxi drivers attacked those cabs that crossed picket lines, even breaking windows and roughing up some people.

And now with the collapsed tunnel subway construction site in Hangzhou, migrant workers are thinking twice about putting their lives at risk doing dangerous work.

It was shocking to read in the media they make 40RMB a day ($5.85) working on this particular project, and 35RMB to build apartments. Aren't migrant workers worth more than that?

With so far eight confirmed dead and it is assumed the chances of finding the other 13 missing alive are slim, many workers on the subway project are thinking twice about continuing the work that they now consider dangerous.

Some say they just want to get their money and go home. They are too spooked -- and rightly so -- to sacrifice their lives for a subway system they will probably never afford to use.

While the central government recently announced a 4 trillion yuan ($856 billion) stimulus package of mostly infrastructure projects, that only ensures more work for male migrant workers, whereas most of the laid-off workers in factories are women.

On top of that, students graduating from universities and colleges this year are worried they won't be able to get a job at all, as companies are having fewer recruitment drives and even studying at a prestigious university won't guarantee a good job, as salaries have dropped.

The government is anxious to keep the economy going in order to maintain a "harmonious society", but it seems to be falling apart faster than expected. China's reliance on exports was the definitely the wrong move, having a reverberating effect on everything from tourism to retail to taxis.

I'm seeing fewer people going to previously packed restaurants, taxis quite easy to flag down and quiet hotels.

It will take a miracle for the Chinese economy to survive. In the meantime, there is just going to be more and more unrest and the government is not going to be able to placate everyone that easily anymore.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

it is disturbing to see and hear news reports on social unrests, attacks on local officials because of unpaid salaries or other injustices to workers and peasants. they are the beginning of yet another revolution and hostility.