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Financial Crisis Leaves Dongguan with Nothing (Part III)

Nanfang People’s Weekly, a weekly magazine under the Guangdong Province’s state run Nanfang Media Group enterprise, which is noted for maintaining a more liberal style than other state-run media, published a three-part series of interviews with people in Dongguan City, Guangdong Province, about their personal experiences with the chilling effect of the global financial crisis. The following is part three. [1]

The Xiao Xia Who Does Not Want to Go Home

“Here you see people and cars everyday; at home you can only see pigs and ox-wagons. Would you go home if you were me?”

– By reporter Wang Daqi and intern reporter Li Shaoqing, from Dongguan

At Dongguan Industrial Park, there was a giant red board in front of a toy factory announcing jobs.  A group of migrant workers were talking next to the board, yet no one dared to go inside. Xiao Xia was one of them. He was looking at the board, “Room and board covered, monthly salary 800 yuan.”

“Is it a trap?” Xiao Xia talked to the reporters, thinking they were also unemployed workers like him. “I look too young. I am afraid that they will not hire me. Why don’t you go in first, you could say that the three of us are together. That way it will be easier (for me to be hired).”

Xiao Xia, a sixteen year old boy with his hair dyed yellow, left his hometown in Henan Province and came to Dongguan more than two years ago. He worked at a radio factory before. “(The job was easy.) All you needed to do was to stick all the parts on to a circuit board.” Xiao Xia said the work was a bit boring, but he got paid more than 1000 yuan a month. “We were paid for each piece completed, as long as we finished our quota each day, that’s it.  If I worked more, I would get overtime pay, 5 yuan for each hour.”  Xiao Xia was good at the work. He could often finish his quota ahead of time and then go back to sleep.

Last January, the boss told Xiao Xia and his friends that he had to deduct one month worth of their wages because they “did not obey the management and were involved in fighting.”  Xiao Xia told the reporters, “As a matter of fact, the boss was running out of money, so he looked for excuses not to pay us. We fought before but the boss never cared. We did not sign any contract with the factory and we are responsible for our own fighting. Why should the boss deduct money from our wages?”

Xiao Xia and his friends went on strike for a week.  Finally the boss agreed to pay their wages, but the condition was that they had to leave.  Xiao Xia and three other people left the factory, one of them went back to his hometown in Henan Province. Xiao Xia and the other two are still at Dongguan looking for jobs.

When Xiao Xia and the reporters went inside the toy factory the manager and director were both there.  They told the reporters and Xiao Xia, “Our boarding rooms are full now, so we stopped hiring temporarily. You can fill out a form and we will contact you when we start hiring again.”

Walking out of the toy factory, Xiao Xia was calm. He told the reporters that he has been looking for more than a month and filled out more than a dozen forms like this. Many places only look for skilled workers, some only look for women, there is no demand for unskilled general labor.

This is very common in Dongguan.  Under the global financial crisis, all factories are looking for ways to cut costs. Female workers eat less and are more careful at work. They are also easier to manage than male laborers.

Xiao Xia said he had used an employment broker before. They “guaranteed to find a job.” After paying 100 yuan to the broker, Xiao Xia was sent to a factory as a janitor where he had to pay another 50 yuan before starting work at the factory.  Several days later, the factory asked Xiao Xia to show them his contract. Then, they tore the contract into pieces in front of Xiao Xia and fired him blaming he “did not work hard.” Xiao Xia said he did not trust any employment brokers any more.

Yet Xiao Xia is quite confident. “I changed several jobs before, but back then everyone was hiring. I believe the companies still need labor. I will keep looking. The worst case is do temporary work.” Xiao Xia said he likes to do temporary work, as you get paid every day, and you are free to leave at anytime.

Xiao Xia brought the reporters to the factory that just fired him, “they are still hiring.”

Xiao Xia hid away watching the reporters walk through the low ceiling aisle by smelly, dirty water and going up three stories of stairs full of mold. We heard the machines and saw a big warehouse full of young workers busy sewing. No one looked at us.

The wife of the boss came over with a baby on her back and looked at us suspiciously. She told us the job offer: monthly wages of 900 yuan but no boarding. We found an excuse and left.

Xiao Xia has an older brother at Houjie, Dongguan working as a driver. He will not lose his job since he has the skill of driving. However, Xiao Xia does not want to live with his brother, because his brother tried to discipline him. “Last year I fought with people from the next door factory, when my brother found out about it, he took away the knife that I bought for more than 20 yuan. I had a big argument with him and never went back.”

Local residents said there are many young people wandering around the streets lately. Many people do not dare to go outside at night now, as people are worried that the town is no longer safe.

When talking about his future, Xiao Xia said he would stay in Dongguan by working temporary jobs. To him, it is not just the matter of making money; he cannot stand living in the countryside, as compared with life in the city.

“Here you see people and cars everyday; at home you can only see pigs and ox-wagons. Would you go home if you were me?”

[1] “The Xiao Xia Who Does Not Want to Go Home,” Nanfang People Weekly, April 13, 2009