Keeping Up With the New Generation of Workers in China

June 29, 2010
  • Jeremy Prepscius

    Former Vice President, Asia-Pacific, BSR

  • Helen Zhang

    Former Trainer, BSR

An interesting article (article is in Chinese) recently published by the All-China Federation of Trade Union (ACFTU) explores the differences between the new generation of migrant workers in China—defined as rural, migrant workers who are 16 years old or older—and their parents’ generation, in terms of their backgrounds, their work-life expectations, and their awareness of labor rights.

The article presents several startling statistics: Over 61 percent of the total migrant-worker population in Chinese cities (over 150 million people) is between 16 and 30 years old, indicating the potentially huge social impact these workers will have on the business environment. This new generation of workers is also less willing to return to their rural hometowns for agricultural work, since 89.4 percent of the young generation does not have agricultural experience—a result of following their parents to the city during childhood. Also, 55.9 percent of the young workers aspire to settle down in the city and own property. This new generation has a greater awareness of their rights and therefore higher job expectations. Besides wages, they are also more concerned with other benefits such as employment contracts and social security insurance, the safety of their working environment, the company’s reputation, and opportunities for self and skill development.

Besides different attitudes, experience, and expectations, the younger workers are also taking a more “active approach” to addressing these issues, as seen in the recent wave of strikes to hit China’s automobile industry. These strikes indicate that business will likely face pressure from both workers and the government. On one side, company management is likely to face pressure from the workers for higher wages and other work-related benefits and rights, and, on the other side, the government is likely to strengthen its policy and legal supervision to protect the rights of these workers in order to maintain social stability.

To continue to thrive in this pressurized environment, companies will need to think more about what their workforce expects rather than what the minimum compliance requirements are, and begin to revise their employment terms and conditions offered to these workers. Wages and working conditions are key; however, opportunities for training and career development, workers’ psychological needs, and health and safety issues will also require more attention. In short, as the Chinese worker modernizes, the employers and workplaces will need to pay attention and keep up as well.

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