Report Says Chinese Workers More Demanding

Younger workers now make up the majority of China's migrant labor force and are quicker to speak up when they feel their rights are being violated than older workers, reports said.

BEIJING (AP) -- Younger workers now make up the majority of China's migrant labor force and are quicker to speak up when they feel their rights are being violated than older workers, according to a report by the country's official trade union umbrella group that hints at one reason for the recent wave of labor unrest.

The report by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions comes in the wake of high-profile strikes at plants run by foreign carmakers including Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. It did not mention the unrest but did refer to worries about social instability.

A spate of worker suicides at the enormous complex operated by iPhone maker Foxconn in the southern city of Shenzhen has also drawn attention to the intolerable stresses many young workers face in factory complexes.

Young migrant workers between the ages of 16 and 30 number about 100 million, making up nearly two-thirds of China's estimated 150 million migrant laborers and nearly half of the country's 230 million workers overall, said the study. It was posted on the federation's website Monday and reported in the Chinese media Tuesday.

The study was conducted in 10 cities from March to May, though the report didn't say how many workers had been interviewed.

The average younger migrant worker was aged 23, had finished middle school education, and 80 percent were unmarried, it said.

It characterized the younger generation -- known as the "post-80s generation" -- as more willing to file complaints when their rights are violated and less fearful of retaliation than the older generation.

The study noted that younger migrant workers "are more aware of equality and rights," and have higher expectations of getting equal jobs, labor and social welfare, education, and other basic public services.

It said they are "showing a higher willingness of defending their rights." According to the surveys taken by the national union, only 6.5 percent of the younger workers said a fear of retaliation would prevent them from filing complaints, compared with 13 percent of their older counterparts.

The report said resolving the problems facing the new generation of migrant workers was important to avoid social unrest.

"The accumulation of these demands and problems has begun to have negative effects on our country's political and social stability and sustainable economic development," it said.

Though the government hasn't intervened, China's leaders have shown concern over the labor unrest that has roiled companies in recent months. Premier Wen Jiabao last week urging better treatment for China's legions of young migrant workers.

Tactics and strategies for making complaints were also more sophisticated, the report said. If they do raise grievances, nearly half the younger migrant workers file joint complaints, while only 28 percent of their older counterparts said they would.

China has no independent trade unions, with the official unions under the control of Communist Party. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions is often seen as siding with management instead of representing workers.

The study also said the younger generation were much less willing to endure hardship than traditional migrant workers, who often grew up in poverty and usually were the first in their families to seek non-farm work.

It is not surprising there is a shift in generational outlook occurring, since the current cohort of workers is far more likely to have been raised in urban settings, say worker advocates.

Most of the younger migrant workers no longer expect to return one day to farming on the family plot. The study found that 89 percent of the younger migrant workers had virtually no farming skills at all. Instead, most hoped to save enough money to move to the cities permanently.

"It is a generational thing. Their parents were willing to work these long hours in often dangerous conditions because they had no choice ... But now, it's no longer the case," said Geoffrey Crothall, spokesman for the Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin. "For more and more of them, they have choices. They can afford to be discriminating."