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Economy, Labor

medical care systems, enterprise managers, railroad transport, Official unemployment, job insecurity

In 2000 China had a total labor force of 757 million, the largest in the world. In 1998 agriculture, forestry, and fishing employed 48 percent of the workforce. Mining, manufacturing, and construction employed 22 percent. The remainder, 13 percent, worked in the service sector, which includes banking, government, transportation, tourism, and retail trade.

Official unemployment in China was 3.1 percent in 2000. However, the real problem of unemployment and underemployment (employment that is less than regular, full-time employment) is much more serious. Many state-owned enterprises have more workers than are needed. To increase production efficiency, these enterprises have begun laying off many people. Furthermore, eliminating inefficient communal farming methods created a huge pool of unemployed and underemployed people in the countryside. Each winter since the reforms began, millions of peasants have traveled to cities in search of seasonal work. This has caused havoc in railroad transport and social problems in urban areas that have neither enough jobs nor housing to absorb these workers.

China's economic reforms have brought major changes to the work place. Previously the state assigned people to jobs. Although workers had little choice in their assignments, they generally could count on life-long employment. Furthermore, state enterprises provided retirement, social security, medical care, and in many cases subsidized housing to their employees. However, these costly benefits contributed to the losses that plagued many state-owned enterprises. Under the reforms, enterprise managers have received greater freedom to hire and fire workers. Job mobility has increased, but so has job insecurity. Meanwhile, the government is in the process of devising new retirement, social security, and medical care systems.

Trade unions are organized in all of China’s industrial sectors. Some of the unions were founded as early as the 1920s. Many more were founded after the establishment of the PRC in 1949. All trade unions are under the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, an umbrella organization of the CCP. The unions work for the interests of union members in matters such as labor protection, workers' welfare, and the settlement of labor disputes. The unions are also an instrument for bringing workers and the CCP together. In the mid-1990s trade unions had a total membership of about 104 million people.

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