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More than 600,000 return home jobless after quake
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Nearly two months after returning home to Sichuan Province following the devastating May 12 earthquake, more than 600,000 migrant workers are now facing the dilemma of what to do for work.

Cui Rusheng, a farmer from the quake-hit Shifang City, sits in the crowded Jinjiang District job market in Chengdu, capital of the southwestern Chinese province, on Wednesday. In front of him, two boards read "driver" and "painter," respectively.

"I quit my job as a driver in a cargo distribution company in Chengdu on the second day of the quake and hurried home."

He considered himself lucky when he found all his family safe, and their house only suffering some damage.

Farmers-turned migrant workers who lost jobs because of home visits, swarmed the largest job market in Chengdu. Liu said he had waited for days without getting a satisfactory offer.

Sichuan is the largest source of migrant workers in western China, with 20 million farmers leaving the fields for city jobs last year. More than 11 million went out of province to take their chances, according to official figures.

The government's investigation found more than 600,000 migrant workers rushed home after the magnitude-8.0 earthquake jolted the province. Many of the bread-earners were pained to see their homeland in ruins, their elders or children killed.

"The earthquake deprived a livelihood for 1.15 million rural people in the province, as the tremors wreaked havoc on their contracted farmland and forests," said Vice Governor Li Chengyu in a recent disaster report.

He said 80 percent of farmers were those who found it difficult to get jobs because of their physical condition and lack of work skills.

In Wenchuan, the earthquake's epicenter, the local labor organization found jobs for nearly all of the 6,000 migrant workers from the county who had returned home. The unemployed in the county also included about 3,000 farmers who had been employed by a local industrial park that was destroyed.

Liu Shaoyong, a migrant worker from Tongshan Village of Wenchuan, said he could not leave his mother alone at home to rebuild the house.

He had been a porter with a telecom company in Shanghai. The job, which took him about 2,000 km away from home, earned him a monthly income of 1,800 yuan (257 US dollars). He abruptly left upon hearing the news of the earthquake.

"It was a decent job. But I don't know whether I would be re-employed if I went back to Shanghai. Even if they do want me, I am afraid that I could not go back to work immediately," he said.

Many migrant workers such as Liu were hindered from going back to city work because of the rebuilding in the quake zone.

So far, authorities have moved over 70,000 Wenchuan residents away from their homes in fear of secondary geological disasters. Migrant workers on home visits have taken part in the building of temporary settlements where tents and prefab houses were erected to accommodate the victims. Many, however, said they would leave as soon as the work was done.

The labor organization in Wenchuan said it had amassed 15,000 job offers provided by 260 companies nationwide. It promised priority for jobless in Wenchuan.

To help the unemployed in the quake zone find work is at the top of the agenda of the country's disaster relief work. Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang held a State Council meeting in Chengdu on Monday, urging 19 provinces and municipalities including affluent Beijing, Guangdong and Zhejiang to help address the employment issue for Sichuan migrant workers.

Sources with the meeting said 20 employment aid agreements were signed. They vowed to create 100,000 vacancies in Sichuan before September, and provide job training for 170,000 locals.

(Xinhua News Agency July 4, 2008)

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