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Labour pinch points to pastoral needs

Worker migration affects rural parishes as well as big cities

Labour pinch points to pastoral needs
China's construction industry remains hungry for workers from western regions reporters, Shenzhen and Zhouzhi

March 14, 2011

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A labor shortage in China’s coastal regions has become more acute this spring because many former migrant workers, boosted by job booms in other areas and a desire to be near their children, are seeking jobs closer to home. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the number of China’s migrant workers has steadily increased year on year and reached 242 million at the end of 2010. Despite this, many companies in southern and eastern China have found it difficult recruiting new workers since the Lunar New Year holidays ended in mid-February. Local authorities in southern Guangdong province say the province currently lacks one million workers. Migrant workers’ movements also affect the Church. Although there are no official statistics, Church workers in different part of China believe migrant workers account for a large proportion of China’s Catholic population. Thanks to the country’s rapid economic development, central and western regions are now offering more employment opportunities, leading to more competition with coastal cities for human resources. More and more people are seeking work closer to home now that salaries are gradually falling in line with those from provinces further afield. “The cost of living in central provinces is lower. After having earned some money in coastal cities, we can go home to build a house, get married and start our own businesses. Life is then more relaxed and comfortable,” said Joseph Qin, a former migrant worker. Many migrant workers also no longer want to leave their children with grandparents, fearing their relationship with their offspring will suffer if they do. In a recent study, the official All-China Women’s Federation estimated there are 58 million children who have been left by their parents in China, among which more than 30 per cent have been separated from their parents for five years or more. Some 40 million of the children cared for by relatives are under 14. Their daily life, behavior and homework often suffer due to a lack of parental guidance. One woman, Teresa, returned to her home town in Jiangsu province last year. “Having worked in Shenzhen for so many years, I was disconnected from a lot of things happening at home. Now, with my family around me, I would much rather stay here.” However, she worries she might have to return to Shenzhen if she cannot find a good job locally. The effects of migration can be felt in rural parishes, such as in central Shaanxi province, where Hou Wenfei from Zhouzhi diocese said he feels parish life lacks vitality as regular Mass-goers are mostly elderly people and their grandchildren. He hopes local Churches can offer faith formation and compassion to Catholic workers who work away from their hometowns, as well as care for the children left-behind. “By boosting the faith of workers and solving the child issues, the Church can show its spirit of fraternity,” he said. Unlike older generations, today’s young Catholic migrant workers usually neither adhere to a traditional faith life nor work in cities just to feed their family. Instead, they are pursuing a high-quality but secularized city life, Hou said. Some may still go to churches near their factories, but many more never go to Mass after they leave home, he noted. The Church should pay more attention to this group of Catholics, form lay groups and organize activities not only for the young but also middle-aged migrant workers, said Maria Wu. CH13587.1644
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