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Cloud of uncertainty as China ushers in the Year of the Pig

Cloud of uncertainty as China ushers in the Year of the Pig

A family waits outside the Beijing railway station ahead of the Chinese New Year. (Photo: Olivia Siong)

BEIJING: "I just got retrenched," said 32-year-old Huang Xiaoxue.

The former IT worker was speaking to Channel NewsAsia in late January near the Beijing railway station before heading home for Chinese New Year. 

The station, located in the Dongcheng district of China's capital, was a hive of activity amid the annual Chunyun rush. 

Chunyun, or Spring Festival, is an annual 40-day period during which the Chinese head home to celebrate the New Year with their families.​​​​​​​

People wait outside the Beijing railway station ahead of the Chinese New Year. (Photo: Olivia Siong)

READ: Chinese begin new year holiday exodus in the millions

It is a typically happy occasion, but this year, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the festivities. 

China is grappling with its slowest economic growth in close to three decades, an ongoing trade war with the United States and fears of even more job loss in the Year of the Pig. 

“The outlook is not that positive. But life still has to go on, I still have to look for a job," said Huang. "The worst case scenario is that I will have to head back to my hometown and find some other work."

Huang is not alone.

Business sentiment across the board is poor in China. Surveys show that factory bosses have been laying off workers in recent months due to worsening economic conditions.

Hiring freezes and job cuts are even affecting the red-hot technology sector. Fintech platform Qudian, for instance, is reportedly letting go of hundreds of workers as the company struggles.

In a clear sign that authorities are concerned, the Chinese government has signalled that maintaining employment stability will be a priority over other economic tasks this year.

It has also announced measures like tax cuts and initiatives to boost public spending.

People wait outside the Beijing railway station ahead of the Chinese New Year. (Photo: Olivia Siong)

“If really unemployment becomes an issue and we will see if it is a true issue after the Spring Festival, then we will definitely see more signs of how the government wants to help local employment and there would be administrative orders to the local government to roll out training programmes and also for certain types of local infrastructure," said Dan Wang, analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The ongoing trade war with the US has also weakened Chinese consumer confidence. Many companies are not only re-looking their staffing needs, but also their business models.

“On one layer, it looks negative - their products, business and strategy may be affected," said Della Niu, regional director of recruitment firm Hudson.

"But on another layer, the trade war may have accelerated their decision to upgrade. Will my business have more diversity? Can my products meet the changes seen in the market?” she added. 

Adding to the employment crunch, more than 15 million new job seekers in urban areas are expected to enter the job market this year. But for many workers, it is more than just job security they are concerned with.

People rest outside the Beijing railway station as they wait to board trains ahead of the Chinese New Year. (Photo: Olivia Siong)

Many workers were born under China’s then one-child policy. This means they are saddled with the burden of being the only caretaker for their ageing parents, while possibly also providing for their family and children.

For them, losing a job is disappointing not just for themselves, but also their entire family.

“This will definitely affect my mood," said Huang.

"If you go home during the New Year and you don’t have a job, it’s difficult to face your parents."

Source: CNA/ec(hs)

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