New labour law in China: an opportunity for official trade union

The implementation of the Labour Contract Law on 1 January 2008 will be both a challenge to and a tremendous opportunity for the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) to start acting as an authentic representative of and advocate for labour.
The law provides the ACFTU with the legislative tools it needs to negotiate genuine and meaningful collective contacts with management at the factory level. If however the ACFTU does not utilize this opportunity, China Labour Bulletin believes workers in China will sooner or later find ways to organize an effective counterforce to management on their own terms.

CLB has now published the second in our two-yearly series of research reports on the state of the workers’ movement in China. The report documents the development of the labour movement from 2005 to 2006 and its increasing importance in Chinese society. It concludes that while the movement may still be fragmented and disorganized, migrant workers, laid off workers and those still employed in former state-owned enterprises (SOEs) now share the same experiences and suffer the same injustices. Workers in China increasingly share a common interest and face a common adversary. Indeed, the situation in China today is analogous to the pre-unionized period in Western industrialized countries where workers were routinely exploited by industrialists and factory owners. The trade union movement grew as a response to that exploitation. The challenge for the ACFTU now is either to join China’s growing workers’ movement or to remain on the sidelines – an increasing irrelevance to the real issues.

CLB’s 56 page English language report outlines the economic, legislative and social background to the workers’ movement in 2005 and 2006, and examines in detail the worker protests that occurred in this period. It looks at both the “privatization disputes” that arose during the process of and after the restructuring of SOEs, and also the more general labour disputes that occurred, primarily in the private sector, in response to specific and widespread violations of labour rights such as non-payment of wages. It examines the government’s twin-track response to these protests – of conciliation in some cases and repression in others, and pays particular attention to the ACFTU and its effectiveness in protecting workers’ rights. The report examines the official union’s role in drafting and promoting labour legislation, the actions it has taken to lessen the burden of migrant workers and those laid-off from SOEs, and its attempts to organize workers into basic-level unions. Finally, the report discusses the systemic problems that have thus far prevented the ACFTU from making a real difference in workers’ lives.

The report is based on documents issued by the Communist Party, the government and the ACFTU, statements of government and union officials, academic articles, official statistics, domestic media reports and the notes recorded from CLB telephone interviews. It is intended to serve as a convenient, one-stop reference source on the major issues and concerns of the Chinese labour movement during 2005-06.
(from China Labour Bullettin)

links: CLB report on Workers’ movemen 2005-2006
ILO: Labour Standards in China
ITUC: trade union rights in China 

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