Since 2004 a labour shortage has begun to emerge in China; in order to tackle the problem the Chinese government has started encouraging privately run institutes to expand the number of vocational schools. According to Education Bureau statistics, the number of students in secondary vocational schools rose from 12.56 million in 2003 to 21.95 million in 2009.
In 2006, the government introduced the so-called “factory in front, school at the back” or school-business cooperation model. However, the students involved are not protected by the minimum wage and the businesses do not need to pay for their social insurance, even though these students work like ordinary workers.
Asia Monitor Resource Centre has published an indepth report, ‘Cheap Labour in Essence, Students in Name: Vocational School Interns In China‘, on the systematic exploitation of student interns in China:
…what China’s overall industries need is non-skilled workers only; the majority of secondary vocational school students, whatever their major studies maybe, finally get sent to the production line, where some students say that their work only takes a day to learn and did not need any professional knowledge. Therefore, the student internship, in essence, is just a way to exclude the students from being recognized as having a labour relationship to the enterprise, and thus without the protection of labour law, so that the enterprise can reduce its labour costs.
This phenomenon has not only deprived the students of their labour rights, but also affects the overall labour market negatively. Many enterprises have used student workers permanently, some using them for even as high as 70% of their workforce…
A number of student workers from Guoyang Military School or Guoyang Secondary Vocational School decided to expose the problem online. Below is their introduction in Sina Weiblog [zh] back on July 19, 2011:
One of the student workers Xiao Luo told his story to a local newspapers [zh] in July:
“在 学校根本学不到东西。”小罗学的是市场营销专业，2007年7月入校，在学校只待了5天，他就被安排到深圳的一家公司实习。直到2008年2月才回到学 校。在学校上了两三个月的课之后，他再次被送到外面当没有人指导、实习内容完全不对口的“学生工”。小罗说：“每次勤工俭学回去后，都会有一个星期的假 期，学校就会给我们很多招生简章，并下达任务，回家要招多少学生，如果招不够回来的话，我们的教官就会被罚钱。如果帮他们招一个学生的话，就给600元奖 金。实际上，这笔奖金不是学校支付，而是在所招到学生的实习工资里扣除。”
按照法律规 定，实习期间的劳动报酬应该发到实习生手里。但据他们介绍，3年来，小罗及他们同学的所有工资都直接打入学校账户。…此 外，学校帮他们每个人都申请了国家补助金，两年共计每人3000元，小罗这级共有1801人。他们至今不知道这些钱长啥样子。“
The students also use Weibo to alert local media workers [zh] about their situation:
Eventually a number of online media outlets had followed up the story, such as Caixin.cn [zh]. The students then further exposed in August 26 [zh] through their Weibo that the school sent child labour to work in sweatshops:
On September 8, two days before Teacher's Day, the students release a video, urging educators to show concern for the exploitation of student workers: