First, critical is the World Expo. Many construction projects for the fair appear to be behind schedule because of a lack of laborers. It is a sign that even a country of 1.3 billion people might run out of workers.
Once thought to be an endless resource, the Chinese worker has suddenly become hard to find in some east coast cities, where factory bosses and real estate developers are scrambling for labor.
The shortage became glaringly apparent last month at the end of the Chinese New Year. Millions of workers headed to the countryside for the holidays, but they didn’t return.
Patrick Chovanec, an associate professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management in Beijing, said, "We may be coming to a point where China is tapped out of cheap labor."
Shanghai has a particular problem in that it is having a $45-billion face-lift to coincide with the May 1 opening of the World Expo. Nearly 40,000 workers are involved in the construction phase, most of them migrants to Shanghai.
Zhu Yonglei, deputy director of the Shanghai Expo Coordination Bureau, said the local government had paid bonuses to construction workers who came back early from their 2 1/2 -week New Year’s holiday or who skipped it entirely.
He said, "As far as I know, this is not just a problem for Shanghai. The entire coastal area of China is suffering from a lack of laborers."
LA Times reports that Labor rights advocates say the problem is that employers are not offering the wages, benefits or job security that would build workforce loyalty.