Wage Growth Slows for Chinese Migrant Workers

An 11.8 percent salary hike in 2012 is half the increase of a year earlier, according to government data released this week.

BEIJING — Growth in wages slowed significantly last year for China’s migrant workers, the millions of laborers on whom the country’s massive manufacturing industry depends.

This story first appeared in the May 29, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Salaries for migrant workers rose by 11.8 percent last year, half the amount of the sharp rise in wages for migrants in 2011, according to government data released this week. The National Bureau of Statistics said its most recent survey of 200,000 migrant wages showed that they earn an average income of 2,900 yuan, or $473.74 at current exchange rates, per month. The figure rose by 53 percent over three years, in an unusual period of rapid pay raises, led in large part by rising minimum wages across China.

Analysts have said that wages have been rising in recent years in part to help quell labor shortages, particularly across the manufacturing zone in the Pearl River Delta. The Chinese government intends to promote higher minimum wages for the next several years, so pay hikes are apt to continue, although salaries for many migrants are largely dependent on overtime pay.

The national statistics bureau also found that China’s migrant population has reached a staggering 262 million, which is one-fifth of China’s population. Migrants are defined as those working away from the place where they are legally registered to live and receive benefits like schooling and health care, under an outdated household registration system.

The statistics bureau found that 65 percent of migrant workers now live in eastern China, the wealthiest part of the country, while about 20 percent are working in Guangdong province and surrounding areas. Another 17 percent have traveled to western provinces to work.

The study found that wages vary widely among China’s migrant workers, 35 percent of whom toil in the manufacturing sector.

“Wages for migrant workers in transport, warehousing, postal services and construction are generally higher, while those in service sectors, hotel and catering, and manufacturing are lower,” the survey said.