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Self or Private Employment Women's Best Bet
Being privately hired or self-employed are the two main ways for laid-off women and disabled people to get off the list of unemployed.

A recent survey by the All-China Women's Federation indicates that over one-fourth of laid-off women who have landed jobs again, are working in the service sector of their communities, or are privately hired or self-employed. For instance, many are hired to help with household chores.

Of the 3,633 women answering the survey from across the country, 89.5 percent used to work for a State-owned or collective enterprise.

Liu Yana, a publicity official with the federation, called the shift "natural."

"Although jobs in State-owned enterprises rank as the top choice for those women surveyed, many have realized that looking for work in the private sector and self-employment might be more practical," she said.

Working for private enterprises providing community services and self-employment follow working for State-owned enterprises on the list of "most favoured places to look for work" in the survey.

"In a labour market in which demand exceeds supply, employers tend to raise their qualification requirements," explained Liu.

"Even though many women workers have striven to equip themselves with more skills, they are in no position to compete with the large number of university graduates entering the labour market every year. In addition, they have this insurmountable obstacle - their age."

Over half of the women workers surveyed were over 40, and most of them have not gone to university.

Wang Rong, a Tianjin women who lost her job at a State-owned textile mill six years ago, spent the next two years scrounging up one odd job after another in order to make ends meet.

"Although I attended several training programmes in sales and computer use, there were always younger and brighter people competing with me," she said.

Eventually, she decided to quit the hopeless competition and started a four-person sweater-knitting workshop with a loan of 4,000-yuan (US$483) from her local women's federation.

Now, four years later, she is general manager of the Tianjin Rongzi Industry and Trading Co Ltd, which employs dozens of laid-off women and brings in an annual revenue of several million yuan.

"In the beginning, we did not know how to run a business, but we knew how to knit and were not afraid of hard work," said Wang.

Zhang Guomin, a 49-year-old blind man in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China's Sichuan Province, has a somewhat similar experience.

Zhang used to work at a local welfare factory for disabled persons. But in 2000, the factory, where Zhang had spent nearly three decades, went bankrupt with huge stockpiles of unsold products.

"I knew from the very moment the factory doors closed behind me it would be almost impossible to find another job. The only skill I had was judging the quality of leather through touch," said Zhang.

"But I have a family and I had to find a job."

Eventually Zhang studied massage. He then opened a small massage clinic at a residential square with two other classmates.

"The income is not high, but it is enough to allow me to maintain my dignity as a father and husband," he said.

Statistics from the All-China Disabled Persons' Federation indicate that the total number of disabled persons that are self-employed or work for private enterprises is 1.38 million, while the total number of disabled employed by State-owned and collective enterprises is 1.93 million.

Zhang Zhenfei, an official with the All-China Disabled Persons' Federation, admitted that the many welfare factories that have been forced to close because of the increasingly harsh market competition are a problem confronting the federation.

In the past, these factories were one of the major ways of offering employment for disabled persons since the country's founding in 1949.

"If the government cannot continue to support these factories, one practical solution might be business start-up loans for disabled persons, along with professional training," said Zhang.

(China Daily September 25, 2002)

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