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Page last updated at 01:02 GMT, Friday, 20 February 2009

Fewer jobs in China's factory towns

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Guangdong province

Migrant worker Guo Debing and his wife He Pingfen
Mr Guo and his wife have no choice but to continue looking for work
Chinese migrant worker Guo Debing lost his job a few weeks ago and now spends his time trudging around job fairs looking for work.

His wife, He Pingfen, has joined him in Guangzhou, the capital of this southern province. She is looking for a job as a cleaner.

They are just two people among nearly 10 million migrant workers making their way back to Guangdong following the Chinese New Year holiday.

Officials are warning that one in five of them will struggle to find a job as the province has been hit hard by the economic slowdown.

Many of China's factories are based in Guangdong. Falling orders for Chinese exports means some of them have had to close.

Difficult lives

Chinese New Year is a time when the country's migrant workers leave the city factories where they work and head back to their villages.

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Migrant workers struggle in China

The holiday is over and these workers are now streaming back into Guangdong, once more looking for employment.

Wearing scruffy clothes, they stand out from the more smartly dressed city dwellers at provincial railway and bus stations.

Job adverts have been posted outside factory gates, on street corners and in employment agencies across Guangdong.

Some offer a reminder of just how difficult life as a migrant worker can be. Workers must be able to "eat bitterness" said one.

As Premier Wen Jiabao puts it, where there's danger, there's opportunity
Recruitment manager Li Jingping

There are also job fairs, including the Nanyue Human Resources Market in a suburb of Guangzhou. It holds events three times a week.

At one, several thousand job seekers crowded around about 300 hundred booths staffed by firms that are still taking on workers.

Wu Peiyuan, the job fair manager, said: "Companies are hiring fewer workers to cut labour costs to cope with the financial crisis.

"But lots of migrant workers are coming back to find a job. Last year, it was easy for them to find work, but this year it's difficult."

One of those looking for work at the job fair was Mr Guo. He is a chef, but was sacked from his previous firm, which he said still owes him money.

Millions like them

"I desperately need to find a new job. I've been looking for a few days, but without any luck," said the 43-year-old.

Mr Guo and his wife, whose three children are also migrant workers, were living with a friend on the outskirts of Guangzhou.

It took the couple, who are originally from Sichuan province, an hour to get into the city by bus to look for work.

There are millions just like them in Guangdong, and elsewhere in China.

There are still jobs available in Guangdong and Li Jingping, a recruitment manager, was one of those hiring at the Nanyue job fair.

"As Premier Wen Jiabao puts it, where there's danger, there's opportunity. Many firms are closing down, but others are developing," he said.

People looking at job adverts in China's Guangdong Province
There are jobs on offer, but wages have fallen

Firms that appear to be doing better are those that do not rely on exports.

Overseas orders for Chinese products have fallen because the credit crunch has led to less money in the pockets of US and European consumers.

Just outside the city of Foshan, in the small town of Baini, a factory worker was posting up job adverts on walls.

The man, who would only identify himself as Mr Li, works for a firm that makes kitchenware. It was looking for between 20 and 40 new employees.

"Last year our business didn't do too bad even with the financial crisis because we focus on the domestic market rather than the foreign one," he said, as he pasted up another advert.

Jobless migrant workers soon gathered around one of Mr Li's posters.

It promised wages of up to 4,000 yuan ($585; 410) a month, but most of those looking at the advert doubted the firm would pay that much.

They said that in a market where there are fewer jobs - and more people looking for work - wages in Guangdong have fallen this year.

But that does not matter to people like Mr Guo. His money had nearly run out, but he had to carry on looking for work.

"There's nothing for me back in my village," he said.

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