Prioritizing Fuller and Better-Quality Employment
Employment is the foundation of public wellbeing. Continuously creating more jobs and ensuring employed people can work with dignity and enjoy all-round development are essential to safeguarding people's right to earn a living and prosper.
I. China is close to full employment.
Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 2012, the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at its core has prioritized promoting employment in economic and social development and achieved historic progress. Particularly when faced with the severe impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in recent years, all regions and departments have faithfully implemented the decisions and plans of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council on stabilizing the six fronts (employment, the financial sector, foreign trade, foreign investment, domestic investment, and expectations) and guaranteeing the six priorities (job security, basic living needs, operations of market entities, food and energy security, stable industrial and supply chains, and the normal functioning of primary-level governments). They have also implemented policies that prioritize employment and introduced a raft of initiatives aimed at alleviating people's burdens, stabilizing jobs, and expanding employment. Their thorough and effective implementation of policies and measures has ensured overall stability in employment and provided vital support for enhancing public wellbeing and economic development.
Employment has continued to expand, and the employment structure is constantly being optimized.
Urban employment is continually increasing, rising from 372.87 million in 2012 to 467.73 million in 2021. Unemployment levels have remained low, largely within the projected range ever since the surveyed urban unemployment rate was included in development targets. Historic changes have occurred to the pattern of urban and rural employment. In 2013, the percentage of people employed in urban areas exceeded that of rural areas for the first time, and it reached 62.7% in 2021, up 13.8 percentage points over 2012. The capacity of the tertiary industry to absorb workers has increased, resulting in a change in the proportions of employees in the primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors, from 33.5%, 30.4%, and 36.1% in 2012, to 22.9%, 29.1%, and 48.0% in 2021, respectively. Our employment structure has adjusted in response to the optimization and upgrading of our economic and social development, and labor productivity has risen across all sectors, from 81,000 to 146,000 yuan per person, as increasing numbers of workers move from low-productivity sectors to high-productivity sectors. By 2021, the wages of employees in urban areas were double those in 2012.
Employment among key groups is stable, and there have been remarkable improvements in the employment and incomes of poor workers.
The number of college graduates has increased each year, and their level of employment has remained stable. The total number of migrant workers increased from 262.61 million in 2012 to 292.51 million in 2021. There are 200 million people in flexible employment, new forms of employment are emerging, and employment channels are expanding. We have strengthened basic social assistance. A total of 49.49 million people who lost their jobs have been re-employed, 15.86 million people having trouble finding work have gained employment, and dynamic steps have been taken to eliminate zero-employment families. Employment is still considered the most direct and effective way to extricate people from poverty, so we have continued to promote local and nearby employment as well as nonagricultural employment for the poor workforce, which led to an increase in migrant workers from 12.27 million in 2015 to 32.43 million in 2020. We are also offering subsidized vocational skills training for poor workers, benefitting over 10 million people. Employment assistance has been strengthened for workers recently lifted out of poverty, which helped to keep the number of migrant workers above 30 million in 2021.
A student enquires about employment opportunities during a career fair in the employment center at Anhui University (Qingyuan Campus), May 17, 2022. XINHUA / PHOTO BY XIE CHEN
Vocational skills training and employment services are constantly improving.
We have refined the system of lifelong vocational skills training, strengthened the education of skilled workers, and improved mechanisms for training, assigning, evaluating, and motivating skilled personnel. The skills and caliber of workers have significantly improved, and their ability to maintain job security and adapt to new jobs has continuously increased. The total number of skilled workers in China has risen to more than 200 million, over 60 million of whom are highly skilled. A three-year action plan to teach vocational skills was implemented between 2019 and 2021, with 100 billion yuan from unemployment insurance funds used to subsidize various forms of vocational skills training for more than 83 million people. A comprehensive system of public employment services continues to take shape and the five-level public employment service network covering provinces, cities, counties, sub-districts (and townships), and communities (and villages) is gradually improving, thanks to greater standardization, specialization, and applications of smart technology. Special initiatives, such as Spring Action (which aims to improve opportunities and conditions for migrant workers) and a recruitment event organized by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security to find jobs for over ten million people online in 100 days, have achieved remarkable results. Public employment and personnel service organizations at all levels are providing recruitment services to 80 million workers and 50 million employers per year on average. The human resources service industry is growing by the day, and there were 59,100 human resources service institutions of various types across China at the end of 2021.
The employment legal system is becoming more robust, effectively safeguarding the rights and interests of workers.
China has implemented the following employment-related laws and regulations: the Labor Law, Employment Promotion Law, Social Insurance Law, Labor Contract Law, Labor Dispute Mediation and Arbitration Law, Vocational Education Law, Trade Union Law, Law on the Protection of Women's Rights and Interests, Law on the Protection of Disabled Persons, Provisions on the Prohibition of Using Child Labor, Regulation on Labor Security Supervision, Provisional Regulation on the Human Resources Market, Regulation on Guaranteeing Payments of Wages to Migrant Workers, and Regulation on the Employment of Persons with Disabilities. We have introduced standards on working hours, days off and vacation, minimum wage, and labor protection for female and underage workers, and ratified core international labor conventions, such as the Minimum Age Convention, the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, and the Abolition of Forced Labor Convention. We have improved the three-tier network of provincial, municipal, and county legal supervision and enforcement, which supervises and inspects the implementation of laws and regulations by employers. We have improved the coordination mechanisms for labor relations, standardized employment practices, and protected the rights and interests of workers, helping to maintain overall harmony and stability in labor relations. Social insurance coverage has further expanded, and the level of protection it offers has gradually improved.
II. Understanding the current employment situation
China is a developing country with a large population and the most abundant labor resources in the world, thus solving its employment issues requires long-term strategies. Now and for some time to come, the imbalance between labor supply and demand in China is and will be a prominent issue. The international environment is complex and changeable, and we face new circumstances and problems in domestic economic and social development. As a result, the employment situation in China is severe, which we will need to work very hard to resolve.
China has longstanding employment pressures.
In 2010, China's working-age population (aged 16-59) began to decline from a peak of 920 million, due to such factors as education causing a lag in the time it takes for the working-age population to enter the labor market. At the end of 2021, China's working-age population was still close to 900 million. This year, there are nearly 16 million entrants to the workforce who will require employment along with nearly 10 million registered unemployed people in urban areas, so there is still considerable pressure on total employment.
The imbalance between supply and demand is increasingly stark.
Structural issues related to employment are becoming the main contradiction in the area of employment, as demonstrated by concurrent difficulties in recruiting and job seeking. On the one hand, employers face acute difficulties in recruiting personnel, with a perennial shortage of front-line workers, such as waiters and production operators, and a labor demand and supply ratio above 1.5 for skilled workers and as high as 2.5 for highly skilled workers. On the other hand, the knowledge and skills of some workers have not adapted to developments and changes in modern industries, making it difficult for them to find jobs.
Key groups, such as young people and older workers, are finding it difficult to obtain employment.
After years of incremental growth, the number of college graduates in China will exceed 10 million for the first time in 2022. Coupled with students returning from overseas and unemployed graduates from previous years, the employment pressures affecting young people are set to rise. In addition, the changing views of young people toward job-seeking and career selection are aggravating the imbalance in supply and demand, while the professional skills and capacity for innovation of some older workers are below the levels required to meet the needs of the market, creating employment difficulties.
There is growing uncertainty and instability in our internal and external environments.
With the Covid-19 pandemic continuing to rage, the global economic recovery is fragile, and our external environment is more severe and complex. This is having an inevitable effect on our economic and social development and a significant impact on employment. Domestic development faces the threefold pressures of contracting demand, supply difficulties, and weakening expectations, which have not been encountered for many years. Demand for workers among enterprises in some industries has fallen, so the pressure on job stability faced by enterprises has increased. Industries such as wholesale, retail, accommodation, catering, transportation, and tourism, which have traditionally been large employers, have been slow to recover, and it will take time for employment in those sectors to rebound.
However, from an overall, dialectical, and long-term perspective, there are many positive factors guaranteeing employment stability in China. China is still in a period of important strategic opportunities for development, and the fundamentals for economic stability and long-term improvement are unchanged. The CPC Central Committee and the State Council recognize the importance of employment issues and are committed to an employment-oriented approach to economic development. To this end, they have issued a series of policies and measures to promote employment and encourage a virtuous cycle between economic growth and employment, thereby fundamentally guaranteeing fuller and better-quality employment. China has transitioned into the stage of high-quality development and is quickly establishing a new development dynamic, which are conducive to long-term employment stability. Scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation are moving in depth, the digital economy and mass entrepreneurship and innovation are expanding, and China's new model of urbanization and rural revitalization have created huge development potential, with new employment growth points emerging. Synergy in the labor market has been strengthened, the overall level of educational attainment in the labor force has improved, and social mobility has increased, which has consolidated support for the human resources needed to promote employment. As long as we capitalize on these positive factors and ensure our affairs are taken care of, we will be able to create new employment prospects as we cope with risks and challenges.
III. Promoting fuller and better-quality employment
Employment has a bearing on overall economic development and public wellbeing. With this in mind, we must continue to stabilize the six fronts and guarantee the six priorities, especially job security, basic living needs, and operations of market entities. We must also expand capacity, guarantee basic areas, strengthen training, improve services, and maintain standards, in order to ensure that employment remains stable and relevant tasks and objectives are completed.
We need to stabilize and expand employment.
The key to stabilizing employment is stabilizing jobs. We need to make employment the focus of macro control, considering the impact of major policies on employment, and seeking to expand and improve employment in high-quality economic development. We must adjust and improve policies and measures in a timely manner as situations change and continue to use unemployment insurance funds to increase support for job stability and training. We will facilitate the fundamental role of market entities in providing hundreds of millions of people with jobs and opportunities to start businesses. We will utilize policy levers, such as capital subsidies, tax relief, and deferred payments of social insurance premiums, for enterprises in industries badly affected by the pandemic and subsequent economic difficulties. We will also develop labor-intensive industries and encourage more micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) as well as individually owned businesses to employ more people.
We need to stabilize employment among graduates and other young people.
College graduates are a precious national resource. Solving their employment problems has a bearing on their personal value and family happiness, but it also affects the long-term development of our country and social harmony and stability. We need to expand employment channels, improve policies and measures for market-oriented employment, and strive to tap the employment potential of enterprises, especially MSMEs. We need to organize community-level service projects and strive to create more high-quality jobs for college graduates. We must improve the effectiveness of employment services, strengthen the link between graduation and employment, and work with relevant departments to offer pre-graduation employment services and extend on-campus employment services. We will also ensure that the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security's recruitment event aimed at finding jobs for over ten million people online in 100 days is a success. We will implement special plans to support youth employment and entrepreneurship, launch the plan to offer a million internships, and strengthen support for long-term unemployed young people.
We need to stabilize employment of rural migrant workers, especially those who have been lifted out of poverty.
Rural migrant workers are a major part of China's industrial workforce and an important force in our country's modernization drive. Data show that the income of migrant workers accounts for 40% of the increase in rural incomes. We should make good use of the two employment channels of migrant work and local employment to promote employment and higher incomes for rural migrant labor. We need to develop labor service brands to promote employment and cultivate a group of unique brands within regions and industries and for specific skills to drive employment and entrepreneurship and boost industrial development. In addition to the Spring Action initiative, we must focus on the needs of migrant workers returning to their hometowns, such as providing employment services tailored to local conditions, showing more care toward migrant workers, and organizing various types of events to provide heartwarming aid. Focusing on counties that are instrumental to national rural revitalization as well as major resettlement areas, we will keep assistance policies and efforts as well as financial support largely in place. We will also strengthen employment promotion and skills upgrading, stabilize the employment of people who have been lifted out of poverty, and resolutely prevent a large-scale relapse into poverty.
We need to promote extensive vocational skills training.
We will concentrate on the key areas of improving the quality of employment, alleviating structural issues related to employment, and enriching the skills of workers. We need to strengthen employment guidance, adapt to the demands of the market, and carry out special training for key groups and key industries in order to provide the skilled personnel needed for high-quality economic development and industrial transformation and upgrading. With our focus on transforming and upgrading the manufacturing industry, we will raise funds through various channels to increase investment and accelerate the cultivation of innovative, skilled, and practical personnel who meet the specific requirements of industrial development and corporate positions. We will improve our policy system for the development of skilled personnel, refine the system for releasing information on available positions and the mechanisms for developing occupational standards, and expand new fields of employment. We will carry out wide-scale vocational skills competitions and promote the examples set by model workers as well as an ethos of hard work and workmanship.
We need to promote better-quality employment services.
Employment services are an important means of stably expanding employment and reducing frictional unemployment. We need to firmly implement the project on improving employment services, encourage workers to access policy-backed services in their places of permanent residence, coordinate and carry out various dedicated activities related to employment services, and improve the efficiency of matching labor skills with market demand. We will refine the services provided for enterprise recruitment, improve the standard employment services of key enterprises, and effectively reduce the recruitment difficulties of enterprises. We will also cultivate and strengthen market-oriented service providers, encourage innovative activities of employment promotion in the human resources service industry, and expand the supply of employment services.
We need to promote employment driven by entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship is a source of employment, and flexible employment acts as an employment reservoir that helps to stabilize and expand employment. We need to bolster reforms to streamline administration and delegate power, remove barriers that restrict entrepreneurship and provide greater support, and continue to stimulate workers' entrepreneurial initiative. We will optimize guaranteed loans for entrepreneurs and other such policies, step up the construction of startup incubators and similar programs, increase support for entrepreneurship among different sectors of society, and organize a series of activities including the fifth China Chuang Yi Entrepreneurship and Innovation Competition. We must improve flexible employment, work, and hiring practices as well as social security policies. We need to take action to protect the rights and interests of workers in new forms of employment, including carrying out a pilot project on occupational injury protection for employees in new forms of employment, share experiences from regulating the gig economy, and support the healthy development of flexible employment.
We need to ensure that people's basic needs are met through employment, especially those of people experiencing difficulties.
Guaranteeing the basic livelihood of the unemployed and helping them to find employment as quickly as possible have a direct impact on people's basic wellbeing and social stability. We need to open channels for unemployed people to seek help, offer standardized employment assistance, and improve the links between unemployment registration, career guidance, skills training, job recommendations, and assistance in meeting basic needs. We will strengthen employment assistance for people in need, focusing on the long-term unemployed, older low-skilled workers, people with disabilities, and former fishermen. We will focus on stubborn employment issues by implementing the three-year action plan to promote employment of people with disabilities, targeting those who struggle to find jobs through market-based channels with placements in public service jobs, and making zero-employment families a thing of the past. We will prevent and rectify gender discrimination in employment and protect women's equal employment rights and interests. We will continue to guarantee payments of unemployment insurance benefits and subsistence allowances, provide temporary assistance in a timely manner, and ensure the basic needs of the unemployed are met.
We need to mitigate the risk of large-scale unemployment.
Given the complex environment we face, it is vital that we remain alert to risks and mindful of worst-case scenarios to guard against large-scale unemployment. We must pay close attention to changes in our economic and employment situations, keep on top of employment statistics, strengthen big data analysis, and improve consultation and appraisal mechanisms involving various parties. We should closely track employment changes among key industries, groups, and regions and strengthen analysis of the impact of major policies on employment. We should monitor signs of risks, predict risk trends, and strengthen the policies at our disposal. We will continue our dedicated campaign to clean up and rectify the human resources market, including investigating and dealing with false and fraudulent practices in recruitment in accordance with the law, severely cracking down on employment discrimination and illegal agents, and safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of workers.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 12, 2022)