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China's migrant workers hugely underpaid, survey says

Young migrant workers in the southern Chinese boomtown of Shenzhen are sorely underpaid but in no position to ask for more money, state media on Monday cited a survey as showing against a backdrop of strikes.

Factories in China's export powerhouse province of Guangdong, where Shenzhen is located, have been hit by a string of stoppages over the past few months by workers demanding a bigger slice of the country's economic wealth.

In Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, the average monthly wage for young migrant workers is less than half that of those who hold full-time, long-term jobs in the same city, at 1,838.6 yuan ($271 U.S.), according to the new survey.

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"Many companies pay in line with the city's lowest minimum standard, and migrant workers can only raise their income by doing excessive amounts of overtime," the All-China Federation of Trade Unions said.

Such a salary "can only maintain the very lowest standards of living in Shenzhen", it added.

The survey, excerpts of which were carried in Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, made no reference to the bout of strikes, in line with the muted coverage of the unrest by Chinese media.

The latest strike has affected a plant supplying parts to Honda Motors' China operations.

But the publication of the study in an official newspaper shows that the rising demands of a new generation of workers migrating from Chinese villages, or born to migrants in the cities, are weighing on policy-makers.

A similar report last month warned migrant demands were a test for stability, something the Communist Party values above all else.

The new survey pointed out that young migrant workers were in a weak position when it came to pushing for higher pay.

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"They ... don't know much about protecting their rights and ... lack communication channels within companies," it said. "When their rights are infringed upon in most cases they choose to change jobs, so there is a lot of movement of labour."

Young migrants thought they should be getting at least 2,679 yuan a month, but would need 4,200 yuan a month to be able to afford to have a family, the survey found.

Though they were better educated than the generation of migrants that came before them, they were still essentially doing the same manual jobs and few had risen to the ranks of management, it added.

But only one per cent would go back to the countryside.

"Everything will get better and better, as long as we work hard and keep forging ahead," more than three-quarters of respondents said. The newspaper did not say how many people took part.

China's official trade unions come under the control of the ruling Communist Party, and rarely support strikes or confrontations with employers. Many private companies do not have unions, or if they do they are controlled by management.

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Some union officials have been pressing for more vocal representation of workers, including migrants.

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