Labor Trading: Intermediary Business in New Street Market
With such doubts, I came to a major manufacturing town in the Yangtze River Delta, where orders are economically developed and many large manufacturing enterprises gather here, which is also deeply affected by the labor shortage. According to Pingge, Xinjie is the most lively labor market in the area. Its a bit like the slave trade in the novel, you can see it by looking at it.
As soon as I entered New Street, I felt the heat of labor business here. Xinjie is like a spontaneous large human resource market, with various intermediary signs and storefronts standing in a dazzling array. On the right side of New Street are intermediary alleys and food stalls. Intermediary Lane concentrates hundreds of labor intermediaries, big and small, and cattle. Stores are large or small, and some labor agencies only set up signs and a chair on the roadside to start business.
Spatial layout of New Street. All the pictures in this article are provided by the author.
When job seekers enter the intermediary lane, they are constantly chatted by labor intermediaries to provide job information. Of course, they only recommend the factories that are in charge of the labor service companies that cooperate with them. On the street full of small intermediaries, my workmates and I randomly entered an intermediary store to apply for jobs. The shop is less than 20 square meters in size, with business licenses hanging on the wall (many small intermediaries have irregular licences, commonly known as black intermediaries), and the room is dimly lit.
The landlady is a middle-aged woman, once she enters the shop, she pulls us to add Weixin. After adding Weixin, we will be good friends and easy to contact. Then she begins to shush, ask and ask for warmth to choose the right factory for us. A young man enters L factory, he is not tired of living, and his salary is high. He works twelve hours two shifts, he packs food and shelter, and his dormitory is just opposite the factory.
We agreed with the intermediary to enter a factory, the intermediary landlady let us hand in our ID card for registration. After checking, some intermediaries will paste a note on each ID card indicating who sent it to facilitate subsequent handover.
From eleven to thirteen oclock every day, the cattle and the labor agency send their labor force to the booths of the labor service companies in Xinjie. The staff of the labor service companies are registered and checked. When a certain number of employees are reached, they send cars to the labor service companies for interviews.
All kinds of people waiting on New Street.
The left side of the new street is crowded with workers waiting to be dispatched, labor intermediaries busy delivering workers, scalpers and vans waiting to be picked up. I watched the scalpers or small intermediaries who came to see people off. They were tall and fashionable, with tattoos on their arms and a social man temperament.
Among the bustling crowds, there are some photographers and pen sellers who shout with loudspeakers, Two pens for one, ten for photography, for exams! The staff of the labor service company also shouted with a loudspeaker: The people who enter a factory come to this assembly! There was a lot of shouting and shouting.
The busy scene of New Street.
Labor Outsourcing: Employment Model in the Era of Shortage of Employment
The reason why Xinjies intermediary business is so popular is the employment dilemma of manufacturing enterprises. On the one hand, as a labor-intensive industry, the workload of factories is huge. The scale of employment of thousands of people and more than ten thousand people is very common, and factories like Foxconn even reach more than 100,000.
On the other hand, as an important part of the international OEM system, there is a close relationship between order fluctuation and employment demand. Due to the strict time limit for delivery of orders and huge liquidated damages, the recruitment timeliness of manufacturing industry is very high, which further increases the difficulty of recruitment of enterprises. Therefore, manufacturing enterprises generally outsource the recruitment of general workers to labor service companies, which organize, screen and transport labor force for them.
Out of the measurement of earnings in off-season and peak season, enterprises try to create a flexible employment chain, through the off-season dismissal-peak season multi-employment model corresponding to seasonal recruitment demand, to maximize profits by flexible employment model. Outsourcing also avoids the labor disputes and economic compensation caused by the dismissal of workers in off-season.
A member of the Human Resources Association told me, Someone in their factory should take risks for him, otherwise so many people will not die in the off-season recruitment. Each factory has several different forms of employment, outsourcing workers is off-season I want to kick out. Its no use arguing in the factory when the workers are dismissed. The factory says its prescribed beforehand.
Outsourcing system: labor service companies, scalpers and small intermediaries
Labor companies undertake recruitment tasks from enterprises, but they do not complete them independently. Instead, they take the initiative to decentralize the tasks and acquire workers from scalpers and labor intermediaries, thus forming an intermediary recruitment system of labor companies - scalpers - small intermediaries subcontracted at different levels.
On the one hand, there are a large number of scalpers and labor intermediaries, which can expand the network of relationships to more effectively tap and organize labor force; on the other hand, labor intermediaries and scalpers are less regulated by legal qualifications, and most of them migrate to recruit job seekers in the form of small teams or individuals. Under the circumstance of evading supervision, mobile recruitment avoids the formation of unified pricing. Recruiters can dynamically adjust labor prices and save the recruitment costs of labor companies.
Among them, intermediary organizations have not signed any legally binding contracts, only based on trust and other constraints to achieve cooperation. Behind such a sub-contracting recruitment system, there exists not only cooperation among intermediaries, but also a fiercely competitive market structure - labor companies will compete for the recruitment agency rights of enterprises; on the other hand, small intermediaries, cattle and labor companies are also constrained by the number of labor and recruitment costs.
Speaking of the fierce competition in the market, a labor intermediary told me: Some intermediaries are very bull-and-bull. They have been working for more than ten years. If you dont have enough money, you wont give it to you. They should give him face.
In such an outsourcing system, labor is equivalent to goods that are constantly transferred and priced, and then transported to the factory through three or four processes. Sometimes, workers dont even know how many times they have been changed hands. Like Xiaoxu, a worker in factory K, when I asked him about his experience in entering the factory, he answered with a puzzled face: I entered through Sister Li (intermediary), but I dont know how to get here again, and I am confused myself.
As for why he chose Sister Li initially, he confessed that the reason was simple. The other side promised a high return. He would recommend him to other factories after he got the return. A person can only get a return fee once, and then go to other factories to get it again. He can get tens of thousands of dollars a year. Zhenger Bajing works in it. Its not much money.
A street in the middle.
Cash-back incentive: the core driving force of the intermediary chain
The cash back mentioned by Xiaoxu can be regarded as the motive force for the operation of the labor outsourcing system, as well as the link between labor companies, scalpers, small intermediaries and workers. In the words of Xiaomei, the owner of a small intermediary, she said, The return is given to us by the labor service. We will give you the money again in order to encourage you to enter the factory... Return money is outside salary, you can rest assured that we will get it through us. We have been doing it for more than ten years.
However, earning cash back is not as easy as Xiao Mei said. Workers who can get cash back need to meet certain conditions, that is, they need to work in the factory for 45 working days or more without any violations. At the same time, the level of return fluctuates seasonally, with higher peak season and lower off-season. The original intention of setting this informal incentive is to attract and regulate workersjob-hunting.
Cash-back is funded by the labor company, and its distribution usually goes through five links of production workshop line leader - Factory Manager - labor company - scalper - labor intermediary (the number of links will vary depending on the cooperation situation). First, the line leader in the factory is responsible for checking the workload of each worker, and then the list of qualified workers will be checked. Subsequently, the managers deliver the cash back and the personnel list to the labor service company, and the labor service company will no longer intervene after entering the cash back into the cattle account. The amount of subsequent returns to the workers is determined by the cattle and the labor intermediary.
By setting up cash-back, labor companies can attract enough workers and indirectly control their workload in the peak season. Cattle and labor intermediaries can also make profits from tapping and organizing labor.
In this way, on the one hand, it can earn a recruitment agency fee again, on the other hand, it can also create the phenomenon of labor shortage, speculate high cash back and increase income. As one practitioner said, in terms of stable employment, labor service companies and labor intermediaries have fundamental divergences of interests: Labor intermediaries wish that the faster the flow of workers, the better, today earns 1,000, tomorrow earns 15,000 and then leave.
Recruitment information and cash return on the small blackboard of the intermediary store.
Free Workers: Transports in the Intermediary Chain
To a large extent, the intermediary chain has become the driver of workersrapid job-hopping. Now that they have nothing, many workers choose to use this freedom in exchange for a little rebate. Xiao Zhang is one of them. He said frankly, I changed many factories a year, and those factories didnt treat me like a human being. Once I slept in a lazy sleep online and was fired. Anyway, I dont want to work for a long time in a factory. I just take the money and go away. Sometimes I get more money than the regular workers.
However, every change of factory brings physical and psychological fatigue. He said sadly, Every time I change factories, Im tired, and I have to check up. The check-up form of every factory is not universal. You see, Im so thin now. Its blood drawn.
As for the difficulty of making money back, Xiao Zhang also knows that he wants to work as an outsourcing worker in an electronics factory. On the one hand, he works long hours, which is not good for his health; on the other hand, he can not learn any technology, which is just a simple repetitive operation. But considering his actual situation, he thought it was a forced choice: I did not graduate from junior high school, you said I can enter any factories, into the garbage factory. I also want to improve my education and learn some skills, but I dont have time and energy now.
There are many workers like Xiao Zhang, who devote themselves to the vast army of outsourcing workers, quit and rework, and relied on the pleasure of returning consumption to dispel the confusion and emptiness of life.
Compared with workers, intermediaries in job agencies are not happy either. Xiaoyue, who is about the same age as Xiao Zhang, is an intermediary in a vocational agency. She has been engaged in this field for more than a year and is tired of it. My salary is very low and Im very tired. I have to deal with the labor agencies all day. I feel like I live in a disguised world all day. Everyone here has it. All I talk about is money. As soon as I get off work, I shut myself up in my room and watch the play. I dont go anywhere.
Some of the bad things at work make Xiao Yue feel at a loss. The pressure comes from two aspects: first, the pressure of the labor company. When the number of workers she chooses is small or cant be transported into the factory (the worker has health problems), the workers blame her; second, the pressure of the workers, some job seekers want to return to the meeting for discussion. She felt helpless and indignant about the riots at home: Those people just make trouble for no reason, and say how long (refund) will be sent to him, he will make trouble. You havent seen extremes before. Some people just lie here and dont leave, disrupting our business.
Talking about her past life, Xiao Yue often cried, and she said frankly that it was not easy for her to be a bottom-level worker. She had been working in an electronics factory before, and knew about workers, so she chose the intermediary industry. But she didnt get the fullness and happiness she wanted. But at this stage, she can only do this job. Speaking of the future, she did not seem to have much expectations. She just said to walk around and see where she might go, and she did not know.
Future of World Factory
Over the past 40 years, China has the largest labor force in the world. A steady stream of young and middle-aged people have moved from the countryside to the cities, becoming working girls and workers, contributing tremendous energy to Chinas economic development and making China the center of the worlds manufacturing industry. However, with the passage of time, the absolute number of labor force has been declining since 2013. Meanwhile, the cost of manufacturing labor and the turnover rate of workers have increased.
According to statistics, in 2011, the average wage increase of manufacturing enterprises reached 13%, but the turnover rate of manufacturing workers reached 35.6%, which ranked first among 11 industries surveyed. In 2015, the average salary increase in manufacturing industry reached 7.1%, but the turnover rate reached 28.9%, ranking first among 11 industries surveyed. My survey also confirms this, with an average of 3-5 factories per worker per year, and the highest turnover rate of electronics factory workers is 2:1.
Facing the increasingly severe reality, it is unknown whether the intermediary chain composed of factory-labor company-scalper-small intermediary can maintain the long-term stable operation of the labor market. The more speculation, the more expensive the refund, the thinner profits and the higher turnover rate seem to contain a hidden concern.
I do not intend to criticize such an intermediary market, to some extent, they provide a platform for workers to take up jobs, but also share the pressure of employers. Simply and roughly replacing the chain of intermediaries or cracking down on illegal intermediaries will not solve the problem thoroughly. However, how the participation of intermediaries can improve the quality of employment of workers, and how to make workers live a decent life, is indeed a question worthy of our consideration. (Xinjie and the characters mentioned in the article are aliased names. This paper is adapted from a field study in the academic paper Flexibility in Management: Organizational Ecology and Institutional Environment of Manufacturing Labor Market. The article is included in the fourth issue of Sociological Research in 2019. Liu Zixi is an associate professor at the School of Society and Anthropology, Xiamen University, and Zhu Jianghua Feng is a postgraduate at the School of Public Affairs, Xiamen University. Source: Liu Song_NBJ9949
I do not intend to criticize such an intermediary market, to some extent, they provide a platform for workers to take up jobs, but also share the pressure of employers. Simply and roughly replacing the chain of intermediaries or cracking down on illegal intermediaries will not solve the problem thoroughly. However, how the participation of intermediaries can improve the quality of employment of workers, and how to make workers live a decent life, is indeed a question worthy of our consideration.
(Xinjie and the characters mentioned in the article are aliased names. This paper is adapted from a field study in the academic paper Flexibility in Management: Organizational Ecology and Institutional Environment of Manufacturing Labor Market. The article is included in the fourth issue of Sociological Research in 2019. Liu Zixi is an associate professor at the School of Society and Anthropology, Xiamen University, and Zhu Jianghua Feng is a postgraduate at the School of Public Affairs, Xiamen University.