China Under Pressure to Deal with 170 million Jobless

As rural workers flock to the cities, unemployment in China seems unlikely to decline from its current level of 13 percent. The recent WTO membership is not a solution since most new jobs are expected to be in the professional sector. Most of the jobless come from rural areas where they make up 20 percent of the population. While government hopes that foreign companies and private investors will create more jobs, there are other troubles to be faced. Proper education for new jobs, and unpaid wages are but two. As migrants swell the cities and jobs become scarcer, social stability and poverty will be obstacles the government must overcome. - YaleGlobal

China Under Pressure to Deal with 170 million Jobless

Mary Kwang
Friday, February 8, 2002

BEIJING - China faces a daunting task of finding jobs for 170 million unemployed people, and its joining the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will do little to relieve the pressure.

This grim picture came through in a report released by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security this week.

The army of unemployed, around 13 per cent of the national population of 1.3 billion, is not expected to shrink soon as jobs spawned by China's WTO membership will be largely in the professional sector, it said.

Mr Wang Dongyan, a senior official of the ministry, told the China Daily : 'The pressure will be around for years.'

According to the latest statistics, the largest number of jobless people were from the countryside. There were 160 million of them, making up 20 per cent of the rural population.

The rest of the jobless ranks were filled by the 5.15 million workers laid off from state-owned enterprises, and the 6.81 million people who registered themselves as jobless in urban areas.

The last is the only group the ministry took into account in concluding the urban jobless rate to be 3.6 per cent as at the end of last year. That is forecast to shoot up to 4.5 per cent this year.

Vice-Minister Liu Yongfu warned that although WTO accession could lead to more job openings in sectors such as finance and telecommunications as well as some manufacturing industries, the overall employment situation will change little in the next three to five years.

The government is looking to private enterprises and foreign ventures to provide jobs, but its target to create more than 8 million jobs this year is seen as inadequate.

Moreover, the new jobs require high levels of education, which the large numbers of unemployed currently lack.

The World Bank commented in a recent report: 'In this decade, conservative estimates place necessary job creation within China at 90 million to 100 million.'

Another aspect of the explosive labour issue is unpaid wages.

Wage arrears owed workers, particularly migrant labour, by businesses is a major threat to social stability, according to a front-page commentary yesterday in the Workers' Daily.

In the migrant city of Shenzhen alone, the authorities helped workers recover unpaid wages of 67 million yuan (S$15.1 million) in the first half of last year, according to the Shenzhen Commercial News.

Each year, millions of peasants flock to the cities after the Chinese New Year to look for work. They return to their villages with their year's earnings during the Spring Festival break.

'The migrants could turn to theft or robbery. They are too ashamed to return home penniless or if they have not made enough money during the year,' said Mr Xu Cheng, a local newspaper editor.

Poverty was an issue raised by President Jiang Zemin at a meeting on Monday.

Urging officials to help poor farmers and workers, he said that safeguarding the people's interests was vital if China was to maintain its social stability.

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