China’s labour law is no use to those who need it most

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Hard hats, hard luck

WHETHER in the breathless years of double-digit economic growth or today’s more languid era, one constant in China has been the poor state of workers’ rights and the frequent outbreaks of labour unrest. From coalminers in the snowy north-east to factory staff in the steamy Pearl River Delta, workers have agitated against low pay, wage arrears, unsafe conditions and job losses. A law on labour contracts that took effect in 2008 aimed to keep Chinese hard-hats happier, and on paper it should have succeeded. Indeed, the worldwide ranking of employment-protection laws by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a rich-country think-tank, puts China near the very top of the tables on several indicators.

In practice, however, the law has only helped a bit. The lack of independent unions or genuine collective bargaining leaves China’s blue-collar workers vulnerable and grumpy. Incidents of labour unrest remain widespread….Continue reading

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