How do new employment and social policies in Chongqing and Shenzhen affect rural migrant workers’ employment security and social security?

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This PhD thesis compares and contrasts various new employment and social policies in Chongqing and Shenzhen to determine how these policies affect rural migrant workers’ employment security and social security in each area. Chongqing and Shenzhen have followed two distinct socioeconomic developmental paths, known as the Chongqing experiment and the Guangdong model, which respond to the development of neoliberalism and rural–urban migration in China by several means, including new local employment and social policies and local hukou system reform policies. The thesis applies the theoretical concepts of the precariat, the informal economy, and the segmentation of labour market (SLM) and dual labour market (DLM) to the case of China. Three indicators – the signing of labour contracts, the level and regularity of salary payment, and the possession or absence of social insurance – are explored to assess rural migrant workers’ employment security and social security. This thesis is based on qualitative research, drawn from one year of fieldwork study with two-month follow-ups in both Chongqing Liangjiang New Area and Shenzhen Longhua and Futian districts, as two representative sites for each model in order to research new-generation rural migrant workers in the hi-tech processing and assembly industry. It draws on the primary data from semi-structured interviews based on an interview guide, analysed through comparative and qualitative methods, to argue that rural migrant workers in both cities can be categorised as members of the precariat, who are engaged in informal working conditions and precarious employment security, and suffer from limited social security within the formal economy, because they are stuck within the secondary labour market in 3 urban China. However, the thesis also argues, contra Guy Standing, that the precariat is not a class for itself in China, due to many divisions within the supposed class. Instead, the thesis suggests that rural migrant workers in both Chongqing and Shenzhen, who make up one part of the precariat, might represent the formation of a new class of “gongyou” 工友 (“workmates”), which is a new previously un-analysed term formed from the native Chinese grassroots rather than the Western-inspired scholarly concept of the precariat. Members of the gongyou class are potentially dangerous to the state and to firms, because of their increasing willingness to take collective action against the mainstream of global neoliberalism and the growing precariatisation of employment in China.
Date of Award1 Nov 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorCharlotte Goodburn (Supervisor) & Anna Boermel (Supervisor)

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