Migrant workers in China, who have among the lowest incomes in
the coastal regions, have an unexpected friend in their everyday
lives a friend worth up to four months of their salary -- their
They use it to find work and flirt with their lovers.
Migrant workers in South China's Guangdong
Province, for instance, like the models with famous imported
brand names such as Nokia, Motorola, and Samsung, according to a
research team that have conducted field studies on mobile telephony
and migrant workers since mid-2003.
One of the team members, Patrick Law, said that after in-depth
interviews with dozens of migrant workers in Dongguan, a city in
Guangdong, he found that mobile phones have helped the migrants
network with their kinsmen and develop new friends.
And such networking is helping migrants empower themselves, as
they can obtain abundant information about jobs by using mobile
phones, said Law, an assistant professor with Hong Kong Polytechnic
In the past, channels for accessing information about the job
market were very limited, and finding a job was very inconvenient.
The migrants had to go around to factories in different regions to
see whether there were vacancies.
Speaking at an international conference on mobile communication
yesterday in Beijing, Law told a story of how mobile phones have
strengthened the bargaining power of migrants with their factory
Law said a factory manager in Dongguan, whose business is
producing garments, once told him he was afraid of the use of cell
phones among his workers.
"The manager said that during lunch break, workers can use short
message services (SMS) to share information about salaries,
benefits, promotion opportunities and working conditions of other
factories," Law said.
"The proprietor said that once seven workers, all belonging to
one family, left his factory after receiving short messages during
the lunch break.
"As a result, the proprietor had to increase the salaries and
require less overtime work in order to keep the other workers in
The professor also quoted the proprietor as saying: "If they
have less information about the job market, they will be less
likely to move around Even though we installed some kind of
interference technology, they can still call their kinsmen or
friends after work. The only way to minimize their contact with
others is to move our factory to a place where mobile phones cannot
receive any signals at all."
Yang Shanhua, another team member who is a professor with Peking
University, said his study found that migrants usually buy
expensive phones with features they don't even use.
"This seems to show that the mobile phone has become a status
symbol," he said.
"Mobile phones also enable the workers to strengthen contact
with their boyfriends or girlfriends, especially with those who are
still living in their home villages.
"My interviews have found that when the migrants finish their
work and go back to their dormitory, what they mainly do before
going to sleep is send text messages."
(China Daily October 21, 2005)