It has been nine months since the government of Guangdong Province, across from Hong Kong, first acknowledged an acute shortage of workers. And the situation has not improved: In February the provincial government said one million workers were needed in this highly industrialized part of China that is, without exaggeration, the factory to the world, making everything from sneakers to mobile phones.The shortage has enabled workers to be picky about what jobs they'll take - and technology like cell phones (there are now more than 329 million cell phone users in China) has helped workers spread the word about which employers exploit their laborers:
Officially the shortage represents around 5 percent of the Guangdong migrant work force, but a study done by the provincial statistics office shows a broad-based problem: 70 percent of 329 companies surveyed said they were having difficulties recruiting workers.
Experts say the shortage has many causes: monthly wages are too low - often around 500 yuan, or $60 - to attract workers from far-off provinces. Word has spread about poor working conditions in some factories. And there is less incentive for farmers to get jobs in the city because food prices and government subsidies have risen.
"I heard a case where a factory deducted 20 yuan a month for salaries because they said they were providing drinking water to their workers," said Vincent Leung, a human resources manager at Epson, the printer manufacturer.Workers of the world, unite - but first, download your ring tones...
"Their reputation is so bad," Leung said of some Guangdong factories. "Now they are paying the price. They cannot find workers."