China to train 14 million migrant workers in 2 years

Workers at a factory in Shanghai, China, in January.

Workers at a factory in Shanghai, China, in January.   | Photo Credit: ALY SONG

Unemployment numbers reached 33 million-40 million in May, after lockdowns were lifted

China on Monday outlined plans to train 14 million migrant workers in vocational programmes over the next two years, as it combats an unprecedented jobs crisis in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At least seven million rural migrant workers will be trained in the coming year, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security said, in an initiative that “will target rural migrant workers including those with a job or without, and those who newly resettled in cities or returned to their hometowns, as well as poor labourers”, State media reported.

290 million workers

The pandemic has severely impacted China’s 290 million migrant worker population, many of who were left stuck in their hometowns in January and subsequently found no jobs to return to after the gradual lifting of lockdowns by April. The outbreak hit during the annual new year holiday, by when most factories were closed and much of the migrant population had already returned home.

China’s unemployment peaked at around 80 million in March, according to estimates, although official figures were much lower. According to UBS, the number of people not working reached 70 to 80 million in March, subsequently falling to between 33 million and 40 million in May, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Also read: China, better prepared for the post-COVID world

The new plan calls on rural areas that have seen a large number of unemployed migrant workers return to lead in training, aimed at helping them find jobs locally or start businesses. Local governments have been asked to target specific industries that can absorb laid off workers, including construction, machinery, catering and logistics.

Limited support

For an officially Communist Party-run state, the Chinese government provides limited financial support for unemployed workers, which does not generally cover the migrant population.

In an effort to support laid off workers, China’s Premier Li Keqiang in a visit to Shandong province last week called for unleashing what is being called the “street vendor economy”, referring to allowing people to start street-side small businesses, in a marked shift from past crackdowns on unlicensed retailing in cities. “They are part of China’s vitality,” he said, referring to the opening of China’s economy in the late 1970s when the government for the first time allowed self-employed businesses to open after the Maoist era. “Self-employed businesses must survive and thrive,” he said, highlighting the example of the city of Chengdu in Sichuan province, which created one lakh jobs by supporting 36,000 street stalls, the South China Morning Post reported.

The shift in policy on street-selling has generated heated debate in China over the past week, given the harsh approach in the past to informal street-selling, which is regulated by an urban management authority called “Chengguan” that is widely reviled in China for heavy-handed enforcement. “Who would have thought the day would come when family planning officials would beg people to have a second child,” read one comment on WeChat reported by the Post, “and Chengguan would invite vendors to go out onto the street?”

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Printable version | Jul 2, 2020 7:55:20 PM |

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