By Aly Song
Living in the metropolis of Shanghai for over 10 years, it makes sense to me that all the luxury malls, high-end goods and soaring skyscrapers are made by the hands of migrant workers. As a result, I pay extra attention to the migrant worker community.
Shortly after the Spring Festival holiday, I had a chance to photograph dozens of migrant workers traveling from home to job interviews at an underwear factory in Shanghai. They were all recruited by an employment agency, a popular business nowadays especially on the coastal area where the labor shortage situation has reached a worsening level.
The interview was the simplest I had ever seen, the only requirement by the factory was “good health”, followed by several questions which altogether lasted about 5 minutes. Afterwards the workers were divided into two groups – experienced and “whiteboard” (without any work experience). The experienced workers were asked to start working right away, while the whiteboard workers needed to attend a training course – by observing the production line and following a veteran for one or two days.
There were two “whiteboard” girls that caught my eye during the assignment. The two shy girls in their 20s were both ethnic Yi minorities from a village in southwestern China’s Yunnan province. You could almost see in their eyes that everything was so new and strange to them. They wouldn’t give me their names, but they told me that it was their first time leaving home for work, and it brought them to a city over 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) away.
Insecurity and uncertainty have long been the key words for Chinese migrant workers, mainly because they left their homes for a strange environment with few friends and usually zero social insurance. A recent hot topic at the ongoing annual National People’s Congress (NPC) was the household registration system (or hukou regime) reform. Through this, migrant workers could finally benefit from government funds on medical services and education for their children, which are given free to urban dwellers. It would, however, take some time for the new policy to carried out. So, what’s the situation now?