Nicoko Chan and Samuel Shen
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese workers crammed onto trains on Monday, heading into the Lunar New Year holiday, worried that job and economic downturns are overshadowing long-awaited family reunions. I headed back to Japan.
People are expected to make a record 9 billion trips around the February 10-17 holiday, usually a time of celebration and relaxation.
But this year, many people are worried about when their employer will call them back, or what they'll find when they do.
Looking back on the past year at the electric toothbrush maker where he works, Wang Jinzhu said, “Business performance was not very good.'' The business, which exports most of its products to the United States and Europe, saw sales fall by 30%.
“I think the days have been tougher than usual… 2024 might be even tougher,” the 42-year-old said in Shanghai before boarding a train to central Henan province.
Many factories in China are facing a cutback in relentless price competition as rising interest rates and growing protectionism abroad squeeze demand for their products.
Producer prices have fallen for 15 straight months, squeezing profit margins and putting workers' incomes and jobs at risk, a new blow for the world's second-largest economy already mired in a real estate and debt crisis. This has become a huge headache.
China's economy grew by 5.2% last year. But for many, it feels like it's shrinking, including unemployed graduates, property owners who feel poorer because their apartments have fallen in value, and workers who earn less than they did a year ago. Ta.
For the past six months, Nie Yeting, who has been working at a pet hospital in Shanghai, said many of her colleagues' monthly salaries have been reduced to at least 1,000 yuan ($1,000) as the business continues to struggle to rebuild after the coronavirus outbreak. ($139) has decreased. lockdown.
“The company was expanding rapidly, but then the pandemic hit. Branches were closed, staff were laid off, and wages were affected,” said the 24-year-old from her hometown of Anqing in the southwestern city. I told him before the trip.
Chinese authorities have stepped up efforts in recent months to project confidence in the economy and calm jitters in financial markets, where stocks are languishing near five-year lows.
On Friday, a headline in the Communist Party's official newspaper People's Daily declared: “The whole country is full of optimism.”
But Wu Kang, who runs a small dredging business with six boats and 12 workers, had little reason to be confident about the rest of 2024.
Instead of returning home, he headed to eastern Shandong province to collect arrears from customers. He has been paying the workers' wages out of his own pocket.
“Funds are tight and we feel that the post-COVID-19 economy is in a bad place. People are generally short on money,” Wu said.
“If we can't raise money, we won't be able to invest in the new year.” One option is to close down the business, he said.
(1 dollar = 7.1984 Chinese Yuan)
(Written by Marius Zaharia; Edited by Andrew Heavens)