12/23/2008, 00.00
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Premier Wen urges companies “not to lay off workers”

Wen makes a quick visit to the Chongqing economic zone to pledge government help to companies and prevent millions of layoffs. Beijing is very concerned about growing unemployment, especially among migrants and college graduates.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has urged companies to "do everything possible" to maintain their workforce. “Companies must not lay off workers easily,” he said during a visit to the carmaker Changan Group in the city of Chongqing. “While the economy worsens, we should treasure professionals more,” he insisted.

Following declining sales and exports last month, the car and other manufacturing sector are expected to lay off workers.

On Sunday, during his two-day visit to Chongqing, Mr Wen said that the government is unwaveringly behind the auto industry. Next year “the most important target [is] to stop the declining trend of economic growth” and maintain social stability.

Chongqing is home to millions of migrants, a pool of cheap labour that has fuelled the mainland's export-driven boom. Now they are the first to be thrown out of work because of the crisis.

According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), urban unemployment stands at 9.4 per cent, double the official figure, with at least four million migrant workers jobless and forced to go back to their home villages.

There are fears that many more will lose their jobs and will go home in mid-January for the traditional Lunar New Year holiday.

Slowing exports forced the closure of 8,513 companies in China’s southern Guangdong province in October, more than in the first three quarters of 2008.

During his visit to Chongqing, Mr Wen met students at Chongqing University (pictured) where he encouraged them to be optimistic about their future job prospects.

On Saturday he spoke to students on the campus of Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, where he said that the government’s top two concerns are laid-off migrant workers returning home and college graduates unable to find jobs.

About 6.5 million students will enter the job market next year. Up to a quarter could have difficulty finding jobs, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said last week.

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