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Chinese automotive manufacturer BYD, is probably best know outside China as one of the more lucrative investments of the world’s second richest man Warren Buffett. But what is life like for BYD’s employees; do they really have the opportunity to build their own dreams?
At the gate of BYD’s components plant in Shenzhen’s Baolong Industrial Park, I met a young migrant worker, who I will call Wang Lang. He had just bagged a brand name T-shirt after a brief tour of a nearby shopping center and was playing with his fake iPhone. This 26-year-old looked so young and innocent that at first I thought he was a teenager.
He had been in Shenzhen for seven years, working at Foxconn for five years before joining BYD last year. Unlike the most migrant workers who operate machines in factory workshops, Wang works at a BYD office with air-con in the summer, but he was reluctant to say exactly what he does or how much he ears. He did reveal however that he can save 70 percent of his salary each month and send some cash back home, depending on how much he has spent.
“I miss my hometown in Hunan. If I had the chance and sufficient money, I would set up my own business just like my elder brother,” he said, adding that: “In BYD, you can go anywhere as long as you know people. But in Foxconn, unless you prove your capability, you won’t get promoted.”
Wang’s short-term goal however is to apply for an unpaid part-time reporter position at BYD’s own newspaper. “I read newspapers on my mobile phone each day and have talked with journalists from my hometown before,” he said proudly.
Like most migrant workers, Wang did not have Shenzhen residency (hukou) but neither did he see the point of applying for one. One advantage of residency is that your children will benefit from free state schooling in Shenzhen but as Wang pointed out: “BYD has its own school where workers’ children can study right up to the age of 16.”
If workers have a Shenzhen hukou however their children can stay in the city to study high school as well. “We have one boss, he is not from Shenzhen. After his daughter finished middle school she had no option but to go back home to study because she did not have a hukou. The boss has applied for a transfer.”
But then again, despite his relatively advanced age, Wang didn’t have any plan for marriage or to set up his own family. BYD sometimes organizes parties so that male and female employees can get to know each other, but Wang said he was not interested in such parties. “If I’m interested in a girl, I would tell her in private. It’s private matter, not a public matter.”
Sitting around the back of the factory with other workers dressed in trendy T-shirts and jeans, eating ice creams or smoking, Wang said was more interested in the hiking trip the factory was organizing for workers and managers alike later in the month.
Wang said he did have a dream but did not want to jinx it by saying it out loud.
See the photo slideshow of my trip to BYD here.