Foreign manufacturers thought they were dealing with a docile labor force in China, but Arthur Kroeber tells Reuters they might have been wrong. An ongoing strike at Honda, larger numbers of suicides at Foxconn, rising salaries nationwide: foreign investors start to look around and wonder what is happening.
“Foreign investors have been lulled into a false sense of security that China has a docile work force,” said economist Arthur Kroeber of Dragonomics.
“There’s nothing intrinsically docile about the Chinese labour force. There was a period when everything was kind of fine; now we are entering a period of more constraint.”
No reliable figures exist on the number of job walk-offs each year by Chinese workers, and many disputes are likely short and go unreported. But anecdotal evidence suggests the Honda clash reflects a larger trend, in which the balance of power may be shifting toward workers.
The number of Chinese between the ages of 15 and 24 has hovered around 200 million to 225 million for the last 20 years. That number is likely to fall by one-third during the next 12 years, Kroeber said, giving more bargaining power to the young people pouring into the workforce.
“Ultimately, the teeth that lies behind (labour conditions) is the workers’ notion that ‘if we strike, we’ll be thrown out of a job and there’s another 10,000 people to replace us.’ Now the teeth are removed because there aren’t another 10,000.”
Arthur Kroeber is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. When you need him at your conference, do let us know.