Blue-collar is the new white for workers in Shanghai

By Du Qiongfang Source:Global Times Published: 2015-5-20 18:43:01

Showing that the disparity between blue-collar and white-collar workers' salaries is indeed narrowing, the rising salaries of manual laborers has been receiving media scrutiny lately for going against the norm of what society typically expects these workers to earn.

A recent joint survey report on blue-collar workers' salaries by Peking University and revealed that the average monthly income of manual laborers in Shanghai is 4,276 yuan ($689.23), a figure close to what white-collar workers earn on average.

And yet, among the 100 respondents of a recent questionnaire conducted by Laodong Daily, 90 percent declared that they would not allow their children to take any job that requires them to serve others, demonstrating the disdain that still exists among the middle and upper classes.

Honestly, we can't really blame parents for thinking that manual labor is inferior to white-collar work; it is a perspective that has existed for as long as shirts have had collars. Nevertheless, people need to realize that the contributions made by blue-collar workers directly result in improving the quality of life of any society.

Without occupations such as garbage men, janitors, construction workers, repairmen, bus drivers, waiters, couriers, security guards, salespersons, secretaries and toilet cleaners, megalopolises like Shanghai would suffer from paralysis and in a matter of days be overflowing in filth. So where's the love?

I'm sure part of it has to do with perception. The idea of putting on a crisp, white button-down, buying yourself a Starbucks and sitting in a cozy cubicle all day is more appealing than attending to a malodorous public toilet or driving around on a scooter delivering parcels.

Even with the recent wage increases, I suspect college graduates would rather remain unemployed than be seen wearing a blue public servant's uniform. This is probably the reason why, despite the rising admission rate of Chinese universities, so many college graduates are finding it increasingly difficult to find work - because nobody wants to actually work anymore.

Fortunately, we can still depend on the uneducated masses to do all of the hard work. Delivery boys, for example, often arrive at our doorsteps sweaty and irritable due to the frantic pace of their positions, but it doesn't mean that there's not a genius beneath their disheveled appearance.

Dou Liguo was one such courier. After dropping out of junior high school to work, the peasant moved to the big city and worked a series of low-paying jobs that nobody else wanted, including couriering in 2004, back when it was still a new industry. Nine years later Dou was doing so well that he founded his own courier division, which today generates millions in revenue. Dou was one of the eight representatives who rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange during Alibaba's record-breaking IPO.

As China's young workforce continues to decline due to low birth rates, the need for manual laborers has become more pronounced. And if the price of a commodity is largely decided by the market, then surely workers are also commodities on the job market. As such, their salaries should be dictated by demand, theoretically putting the lowliest positions - such as toilet aunties and trash uncles - among the highest paid in our society.

Too bad it doesn't work that way…yet. Along with their rising salaries, hopefully we can also expect a rising respect from society for blue-collar workers, who have become indispensable to our lives. They might sometimes smell bad, but we ought not turn up our noses at manual laborers.

Posted in: TwoCents, Metro Shanghai, Pulse

blog comments powered by Disqus