Monday, May 26, 2008

Sichuan migrants need money

CHENGDU, China, May 26, 2008 (AFP) - After rushing back to their families following China's devastating quake, many migrant workers are returning to their jobs in the industrial heartland to funnel desperately needed cash home.
Still grieving and in shock after the tragedy that killed more than 60,000 people in largely mountainous and rural Sichuan province, the young men and women from farming areas feel they have no choice but to head back to work.
Sitting on a curb outside the main railway station of Sichuan's capital, Chengdu, 34-year-old Li was contemplating the fate of her family in quake-hit Mianyang as she waited for a train to take her back to her job hundreds of kilometres (miles) away.
"The family home is too dangerous to live in so everyone is outside, and they'll have to build a new house though I can't imagine how long that will take or how much it will cost," said Li, who only gave her surname.
Li works as a sewing machine operator in a textile factory in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, China's premier manufacturing region.
She and her husband, who works in a Hong Kong-owned electrical goods factory in Guangzhou, had rushed home 10 days earlier after not being able to get through to their families by phone for two days.
They would have to work and save even harder now, Li said, as she counted herself lucky not to have lost her only child, a 12-year-old daughter.
Many parents were not so fortunate when schools collapsed after the quake hit at 2:28 pm, during nap time.
Like many Sichuanese working in Guangdong, Li took annual leave to return home.
If workers wanted longer than their statutory two weeks' leave, they could take leave without pay, said Liu Kaiming, an expert on labour movement at the Shenzhen Institute of Contemporary Observation.
He added that many factories had helped Sichuanese get home, and were holding their jobs for their return.
Two weeks after the 8.0-magnitude quake, China's government is spending vast sums of money providing for the millions of people made homeless in the disaster.
But many are also depending on money being sent back by the millions of young Sichuan men and women such as Li who comprise one of the biggest groups of migrant workers in China's industrial revolution.
The money they send home is always a vital source of income for villages and towns across Sichuan, but even more so now after the disaster, said Alexandra Harney, author of "The China Price," a study of China's manufacturing boom.
"Most who have come home after the earthquake would be encouraged to go back to their factory jobs to ensure the flow of remittances continues as the need for that money has been exacerbated by the tragedy," she said.
Sichuan is one of China's most populous provinces, with nearly 90 million people, and one of the poorest as it is mostly mountainous and largely agrarian.
As a result, millions of Sichuanese have headed out in search of work, with five million in Guangdong alone -- accounting for almost 20 percent of the workforce there, Wang Liwei, of Guangdong's labour department, told official media last week.
Harney said the earthquake damage would have exacerbated the poverty of many people in the stricken region, and could potentially lead to an even greater exodus of Sichuanese looking for high-paying jobs.
"What drove them to Guangdong in the first place was a desperate need to make money and that need is now even more desperate," she said.
"If I'd lost my home and my family, I would know that I could find a place to live in a dormitory and earn a steady wage in a factory in Guangdong."

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