Business / Economy

The dream and reality for young Chinese workers

By Cai Muyuan (China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-28 15:02

When that wave of generational change hit Foxconn five or six years ago, Liu says the company wasn't prepared.

"They cannot bear hardship and they always complain," he says.

Liu maintains Foxconn was unfairly targeted over the string of attempted suicides among their employees in 2010.

Irrespective, he says the company has introduced a number of new initiatives including the mental health hotline, more organized social activities, professional dorm management and salary hikes.

"In the past four years, the basic wages for laborers have increased by over 160 percent," he says.

In a report released in December, international workers rights group Fair Labor Association found that 98.9 percent of recommendations it made to Foxconn for improving working conditions had been implemented, although the finding has not totally silenced criticism from some watchdog organizations. And while Jiang and Sun seem happy, not everyone on the factory floor is.

The dream and reality for young Chinese workers
Lu Erfeng
Lu Erfeng sits on his bed in the tiny, seventh-floor apartment he rents in Shenzhen for 450 yuan a week. There's a cardboard box for a side table, a PC, and not much else.

"I'm sick of working in a factory," he says.

Lu, 21, began working for Foxconn when he was 17. A migrant worker from Henan province, he punches out 3,000 to 4,000 motherboards for Apple computers during each eight to 10-hour shift, six days a week.

"The work is very boring," he says. "You can't talk to each other, you can't listen to music. I think it's very depressing. My friends (at Foxconn) think it's very depressing."

When he first arrived almost five years ago, the base wage at Foxconn was 900 yuan per month. Lu says it went up after the suicide scandal, but free accommodation and meals were also revoked.

"I make around 3,000 yuan per month," he says.

With wages rising nationally, he believes he can make more elsewhere, and has handed in his resignation.

According to China's National Bureau of Statistics, in 2003 the average wage for a migrant worker like Lu was 690 yuan per month.

Last year, a decade on, the average monthly wage for a migrant worker was 2,609 yuan a month, an increase of almost 280 percent.

Kam Wing Chan, a professor and demographer with the University of Washington, says Chinese workers are still very much divided by the socio-economic and geographical divides of town and country.

"The average urban worker leads a somewhat basic but reasonable life and aspires for financial security, a good quality of life for the family, and to own an apartment, if he or she doesn't already," he says. "The life of most rural (and) migrant workers is somewhat unstable and they struggle to make a living. Their dream is to make more money."

Speaking in generalities about a nation of 1.3 billion people is difficult, Kam says, but he believes the past decade has seen the Chinese worker undergo a change in characteristics and lifestyle.

"They are more educated, and they make more now," he says. "They also have more job choices."

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