Tibetans lose ground in public sector employment in the TAR
TIN[Saturday, January 22, 2005 01:19]
Streamlining effectively discriminates against Tibetans.

The most recent official statistics, published in the Tibet Statistical Yearbook (TSY) of 2004, reveal dramatic changes in the ethnic structure within the public sector of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). In public statements, the PRC government argue that Tibetans make up the majority of state-sector workers, and even the majority of government cadres, and that expansions in government administration and increased wages contribute to an emerging 'middle class' of Tibetans. However, whereas this has generally been true up to the beginning of the Western Development Drive in 2000, there has recently been a rapid reversal of the situation. Since 2000, the numbers of Tibetan state sector employees, (i.e. staff and workers in state-owned units) as well as the share of Tibetans in state sector employment, have been declining sharply. In particular, the share of Tibetans in cadre employment was lower than 50 percent in 2003 (49.7 percent), down from 71.6 percent in 2000. Despite the massive amount of funding from Beijing that has gone into both government administration and construction over these years, current policies effectively discriminate Tibetans from state employment.

'Staff and Workers'

The category 'staff and workers' as used in official Chinese statistics refers to a broad range of employment. It includes government cadres (officials) and their subordinates; teachers, doctors, nurses, and others working in social services; managers, professionals and workers in urban and township and village enterprises, whether state-owned, collectively-owned, privately or owned by foreigners; the formally urban self-employed and foreigners working in any of the above units.

It excludes those working in agriculture, (unless they are working in an enterprise related to agriculture) as well as those working informally. Agriculture nonetheless accounts for a large share of the workforce in China and about 65 percent of the workforce in the TAR, as of 2003. Informal urban and rural work also accounts for a substantial and growing share of employment, particularly among Tibetans migrating from the rural areas to urban areas and non-Tibetans migrating from outside the TAR. Given that incomes tend to be low in both agricultural and informal work, 'staff and workers' represent the relatively privileged in China. In the TAR, where this category accounts for a mere 11 percent of the workforce, they represent the top of the social hierarchy. This is popularly reflected in the fact that some Tibetans pray to Jowo Rimpoche in the Jokhang (i.e. the holiest statue in the central temple of Lhasa) that their children may become government workers or that they themselves may be reborn as cadres.

Ownership has diversified significantly in China since the beginning of the reform period over the last 25 years, whereas it has not in the TAR. As a result, 63 percent of staff and workers in China work in non-state owned units (private, collective, foreign owned, etc), while the TAR remains heavily dominated by the state in any of the avenues of formal employment. Despite the streamlining which took place after 2000, the percentage of staff and workers in the TAR employed in state-owned units rose from 92 percent in 2000 to 94 percent in 2003 (CSY 2004, tables 5-8 and 5-11; TSY 2004, table 4-4). Of the total wage bill in 2003 (i.e. total amount of funds disbursed as salaries or wages to staff or workers), 97 percent of it was derived from state-owned units in the TAR, versus 66 percent in the rest of the PRC (CSY 2004, table 5-20).

Also, as previously analysed by TIN (http://www.tibetinfo.net/news-updates/2003/0804.htm), state-sector employment of staff and workers in the TAR reflects a profound distortion of government administration over social services relative to the rest of the country. The two single largest categories of such employment in both the TAR and the PRC generally are 'Education' and 'Public Management and Social Organisation'. The latter was renamed in the 2003 data from 'Government Agencies, Party Agencies and Social Organisations', social organisations referring to para-state organisations such as the Communist Youth League and the Women's Association. The category 'Health, Social Securities and Social Welfare' was also one of the largest employers.

In the TAR, the number of staff and workers in state-owned units employed in public management was 2.2 times the number employed in education and 6 times the number employed in health. In the rest of the country, the number employed in public management was less than the number employed in education (0.85) and only 2.7 times the number employed in health and related services. Therefore, the bias that is seen in the shares of these categories in GDP structure and government expenditure is also seen in the area of employment, reflecting that the state in the TAR places much more emphasis on administration than on human development considerations.

Job Losses and effective discrimination in State-Sector Employment

The reductions in the numbers of Tibetans employed as staff or workers in state-owned units in the TAR have paralleled reductions in the total numbers (Tibetans or non-Tibetans) employed in these state-owned units. However, total reductions have been more than absorbed by the fall in Tibetans employed. In terms of the total number of staff and workers in state-owned units in the TAR, employment fell from 149,690 in 2000 to 136,646 in 2003, while that of Tibetans dropped from almost 106,756 to 88,301. The Tibetan share fell therefore from 71 percent to 65 percent of such employment over these four years (all data from TSY 2004, table 4-5).

Consequently, 13,044 total state-sector jobs were lost between these four years, while Tibetans specifically lost 18,455 jobs and non-Tibetans gained 5,411 jobs. In other words, more than the total amount of job loss in state-sector employment was absorbed by Tibetans. The extra was captured by increased non-Tibetan employment (most of it probably by Chinese).

The total number of staff and workers in state-owned units is divided between permanent workers and workers employed on contracts. Among permanent workers, the share of Tibetans fell more sharply, from 71 percent in 2000 to 53 percent in 2003. More specifically, there was a sharp reduction in total permanent employment in 2002, from 133,650 jobs in 2001 to 108,765 in 2002, of which Tibetan employment fell from 89,448 jobs to 76,764. However, in the next year, this category of permanent state-sector employment recovered back up to 133,580 in 2003, even though the Tibetan share fell even lower to 71,185 jobs at the same time.

More significantly, a large section of this replacement of permanent employees took place at the higher levels of government among the cadre workforce. The share of Tibetan cadres fell from 72 percent in 2000 to just less than 50 percent in 2003. Essentially, the total figures for the employment of cadres (including non-Tibetan) increased from 69,927 in 2000 to 88,734 in 2003, at the same time as the number of Tibetan cadres fell from 50,039 cadres to 44,069. In the past, Tibetans were generally less represented at the higher levels of the cadre hierarchy, although up to 2000 the Tibetan share of cadre employment was more or less equal to the other lower categories of employment among staff and workers, all hovering around 70 percent. Now, there are less Tibetans employed as cadres than there are employed within the lower categories.

Similarly, among workers who are permanent employees of state-owned units, the share fell from 70 percent in 2000 to 60 percent in 2003. The workforce employed in this sector, including Tibetans, fell but the number of Tibetans fell by more, with total numbers declining from 66,402 workers in 2000 to 44,846 in 2003, while the number of Tibetan workers fell from 46,735 to 27,116.

Only the number of Tibetans employed on non-permanent contract work experienced an increase, rising from 71 percent in 2000 to 83 percent in 2003. Nonetheless, these shares do not reflect the dramatic drop in non-permanent employment over these years, from 23,453 workers in 2000 to 6,912 in 2003. Tibetan workers employed on contracts fell from 16,717 to 5,689.


The changes presented here are part of a general initiative by the Chinese government to rationalise and restructure the public sector, and in particular, public sector employment. Nonetheless, in the light of their actual effects, it appears that government statements relating to the streamlining of the public sector conceal the substitution of permanent Tibetan employees with non-Tibetans (mostly Chinese). The timing of this substitution around 2002 and 2003, particularly in the case of cadres, also links this development with the new leadership in Beijing surrounding President Hu Jintao, who was party secretary in the TAR, and seems to corroborate the widespread perception in the TAR that the Chinese leadership does not trust the loyalty of Tibetan cadres.

However, the effects of these policies might be more circumstantial than intentionally discriminatory. For example, reductions in employment, which have probably been implemented with retirement policies and other similar tools, may have been targeted at employment categories with higher representations of Tibetans, such as loss-making state-owned factories that might have been closed down. On the other hand, increases in employment may have been targeted at categories where Chinese representation is the highest, such as on the construction of the Golmud-Lhasa railway, which accounts for a large share of subsidies, or in security-related government posts. This is likely given that some administrative military personnel may be categorised as public employees in these data. Nevertheless, even if not intentional, the effective outcome of these policies is clearly discriminatory.

Other policy tools for rationalising public employment carry strong linguistic biases. For example, exams have been recently introduced for permanent employment in the public sector. However, the exams are held in Chinese and many local Tibetans and foreign observers in the TAR have noted that this places Tibetans competing for such positions at a disadvantage, particularly those who might have excellent Tibetan language skills (and are thus actually better suited for governing Tibetans), but mediocre or limited Chinese language skills (due to their focus on the Tibetan language and people). The Chinese government itself estimates that about 80 percent of rural Tibetans possess no Chinese language skills.

It appears therefore that, although the Chinese government argues that it is moving towards a more merit and performance based system of public employment, it effectively violates the principles of its own minority laws, which stipulate the use of minority languages in minority autonomous areas. Indeed, if knowledge of Tibetan were a prerequisite to public employment in the TAR, Tibetans would have an obvious advantage over Chinese in finding employment in the public sector.
In the 1980s, the PRC leadership emphasised ethnic competence, based on the conception that local people knew best how to implement Beijing's party policy. But the Western Development Drive and new leadership has put 'efficiency', as defined by the needs of the Chinese State, to the fore. As a result, rationalisation of the public service ultimately discriminates against Tibetans, who have much lower education levels than Chinese. This also violates China's commitment to ethnic non-discrimination in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which it has signed and ratified.

These reductions in employment have come at a time when the state-sector has been one of the most important and most dynamic sources of growth in the TAR. GDP growth rates have been the highest in Western China in 2002 and 2003, largely fuelled by expansions in state-subsidised investment and administrative spending on the state-sector itself. A stronger involvement in state-sector employment therefore bears a high potential for increasing Tibetan employment. Instead, Tibetan employment in the state-sector has been falling, along with state-sector employment in general. Paradoxically, employment, especially Tibetan employment, has been shrinking in precisely the parts of the economy that have been growing fastest.