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China"s State-owned enterprises directly managed by the central government have been instructed to take steps to improve benefits for skilled workers - for example, offering more stock ownership incentives - to help sustain key workforces and improve the quality of Chinese manufacturing.
"Central SOEs must improve the political, financial and social treatment of skilled workers, especially highly skilled talent, from an overall strategic perspective," Xu Fushun, deputy director of the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, said on Thursday.
Those SOEs must properly expand access to stock ownership for skilled workers, he said. "Incentives should not be available only to senior managers and core technicians, but also to excellent front-line industrial skilled workers and craftsmen," he said. "They should also be given priority to enjoy opportunities for overseas training, medical leave and vacations."
In addition, Xu called for reforming the income distribution system of centrally managed SOEs, to closely link skilled workers" incomes with an enterprise"s revenue.
In March, the general offices of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council released a guideline calling for more incentives for skilled workers, including raising their pay and social benefits.
China has only 165 million skilled workers, accounting for 21.3 percent of the working population. Of those, 47 million are highly skilled, according to Yan Jinghua, vice-president of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions.
"Although we have made many achievements after 40 years of reform and opening-up, some core technologies are controlled by other countries and our real economy is still growing slowly," he said.
"We must build a strong, skilled work team and make full use of their innovation and wisdom in high-grade and advanced technologies."
Central SOEs were ordered to play a leading role in improving the treatment of skilled workers because of their obvious importance to China"s economy. The country now has more than 90 centrally managed SOEs, but they are witnessing a shortage of skilled workers, especially highly skilled ones.
"There were 2.11 million highly skilled technicians in central SOEs at the end of last year, accounting for 35 percent of all skilled workers in the enterprises," Xu said. "But the proportion of highly skilled workers in other major manufacturing countries is 40 to 50 percent. We still have a significant gap."
Central SOEs now have about 6 million skilled workers, but in 2017 that shrank by 290,000 from the level in 2015, he said. He attributed the talent outflow mainly to low incomes, unsatisfactory welfare benefits and poor social status.
Liu Baolong, vice-president of China Railway Group, said it has given out more bonuses to skilled workers at various levels.
"We will award 20,000 to 60,000 yuan ($3,000 to $9,000) to those who win national prizes, and 3,000 to 20,000 yuan to outstanding skilled workers within our group," he said.