by Ha Li (Factory Stories #3, May 2012)
At the beginning of this year all media made a racket about the labor shortage again, just like in previous years. Not only were the age restrictions for newly hired relaxed, the bosses also want to use many strange forms of hiring, like online video job interviews, hiring people at railway or bus stations, etc. That is all about nothing else but telling the followers of big news programs: It is, indeed, very hard to recruite workers! The bosses are starting to treat workers like treasuries! But what is really happening? Lets look at our factory, for example.
Suddenly it’s May. From the beginning of the year until now, the recruiting notices have not been taken down from the board, they are always sticking in the box for recruiting staff. It is not that nobody is applying. Applicants come and go, in already countless numbers, but just a few of them stay in the end. It seems that not even 20 per cent accept the job offer. However, can you call that a “labor shortage”? After all, there is an endless stream of job applicants every day. So why are they always recruiting? We asked some of those who came for a job interview or who tried the job and left after a few days. They gave many different reasons, but those centered around just three points: the wages are not good, the managers are too harsh, and they did not want to work night shifts. One person who had tried the job for one day before quitting said: “This factory does not allow me to bring in a cell phone. If there is an emergency I will not be able to contact anyone!” That means, many workers in that mold processing plant are machine controllers and do have a lot of idle time, but the boss does not want his employees to do things that are not connected to the job during working hours, even while they have nothing to do. So the company rules state: Employees are not allowed to carry cell phones during working hours, they are not allowed to talk, and they are even not allowed to read newspapers.
The recruited workers are not content. While employees themselves don’t want to work here, the company is also fussy about job applicants and fires employees are deemed “unsuitable for the working environment”. That is to say, the boss wants employees to do what they are told, to follow the plan, to behave well—in short, to do the job without complaining. However, workers are no toy dolls, they have their own mind and don’t think the same way as the boss. Conflicts are, therefore, hard to avoid. As a matter of fact, there was a guy from the Northeast in the lathing team. He did his job well and had personality. The company assigned him to the night shift. Unexpectedly, he agitated two other people in his workshop to slow down work. It’s not that he was keen to lock horns with the boss, it was just because the night shift is exhausting and one falls asleep easily. In the end, the security guards discovered and reported him, and he was immediately sacked before he could object. The manager said: “His conduct was bad. What’s the use of keeping him! He worked badly, and he asked other people to be lazy. Even if I kept him, he could not benefit the company! China has more than one billion people, why should I be afraid off not finding any talented workers?” Okay, there are, indeed, talented workers, but more and more don’t do what they are told. Someone from the cutting team said: “The boss still believes that the whole world is just waiting to work for him!”
Is there really a labor shortage? I don’t see it. Just like a friend said: “The good factories don’t hire, and those factories which do hire are all fucked up!”