Garment makers such as KTC have long emphasised the skill and craftsmanship needed to produce high performance apparel

Garment makers such as KTC have long emphasised the skill and craftsmanship needed to produce high performance apparel

Workers in China's garment and textile industry are increasingly attaching more value to "soft factors" such as skills training, job security, equitable treatment and trade unions, not only to financial benefit when seeking a new job, a study has found.

China, as the largest developing country in the world, also has the largest population of workers. It is the biggest textile and apparel manufacturer and trader in the world, employing more than 10m people. The importance of labour-intensive manufacturing to its economic development, therefore, should not be under-estimated, a report by Switzerland's Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) points out.

By the end of 2015, only 26 International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions involving elements of decent work, such as minimum age for employment, minimum wage, working time and equal remuneration, were ratified by China.

The Chinese government has, however, initiated labour regulation reform in response to pressures from NGOs, trade unions and international buyers concerned about sweatshops in global production networks. As a result, decent work in the industry is expanding.

Yet while improvements are taking place in the country's garment and textile industry, dissatisfaction remains in a number of areas, according to the report, which surveyed 313 blue-collar workers and 228 white-collar workers.

The survey found that Chinese garment workers are beginning to comprehend the nature of decent work, with the primary indicators of this such as salary, work duration and intensity all scoring poorly – suggesting these areas should be improved. While the government has taken measures to increase wages through a minimum wage rise and the implementation of New Labor Contract Laws, workers remain unsatisfied.

It was also found that white-collar workers attach more importance to so-called soft conditions, such as company development, fair and equitable treatment at work and job security, when seeking a new job. Blue-collar workers, meanwhile, are more satisfied with soft criteria associated with higher levels of human motivation, such as skills training and trade unions.

"Increasing wages has implications for the cost competitiveness of enterprises, and rising costs could affect export competitiveness when compared to other lower labour cost garment producing nations," the report explains. "However, monetary reward is not the only means of making workers feel valued, and it may be possible to provide a more appealing working environment so that workers feel valued and motivated, despite relatively low wages."

Indeed, the results found that while workers differ in their attitudes towards decent work, there is evidence that soft factors are becoming more important across both blue and white collar levels in garment factories.

Employee attraction and retention is especially important in the Chinese garment industry, a labour-intensive sector where wages are relatively low, workers are becoming more demanding and enterprises increasingly struggle to recruit skilled workers.

"Given the low satisfaction scores for some decent work criteria, the local and national government should work to raise awareness of the importance and benefits of decent work in garment enterprises. Profitability and provision of quality jobs are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and improving job quality can lead to better organisational performance," the report states.

Separate research has also shown an engaged workforce is likely to be more motivated and easier to retain, but it is more productive too – with benefits ultimately being seen on a company's bottom line.

Why worker engagement is key to China competitiveness

Click here to view the full report.