Monday, October 23, 2006

China Needs Free Unions

I was taken to task for being quick to denounce the new China Labour Law. Apparently I was another one of those cheerleaders on the left who apparently did not give the American Chamber of Commerce their due, according to China Law Blog. China's Proposed Labor Law:Going After Capitalists Like China, 1967

Dan Harris the blogger does praise one union blogger saying;

I did come across a single blog post, however, that actually engaged in some thought and analysis on these issues. In a post, entitled, "Unions in China," on the decidedly pro-union Peter Levine blog, Mr. Levine actually seeks to discern what is going on with China's labor laws and with the American Chamber's (AmCham) opposition to them.

Levine then goes on to say in an addendum that he is "beginning to think" that the New York Times article was misleading because the proposed law would not in "any way increase the independence of unions in the PRC. It would impose some new labor laws, but they might not be enforced fairly. Workers would have no voice in their enforcement. There would be no increase of pluralism or democracy."

Bravo, Mr. Levine for starting an important discussion that just about everyone else in the blogosphere seems to want to avoid.

Well gee Dan, I said that too. "The restructuring of China from a State Captitalist economy to a mixed economy forces it to liberalize its labour laws. This does not yet mean that there will be independent worker controled unions, but it is a step forward.What China needs, is a new workers movement and free unions not State unions."

Dan's concern and that of the American Chamber of Commerce is that China labour laws will not allow employers to fire shiftless, lazy workers. This is a surprising admission from a lawyer who should know better. The fact is that union grievance procedures also mean that employers cannot just fire workers without 'just cause". It's the trade off for management rights in a contract. And it is to the benefit of employers, because otherwise they would be sued under common law. Which is far more costly.



State Capitalism


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1 comment:

ChinaLawBlog said...

Here's another surprising admission: I do not fully understand what you are talking about.

I like this comment left on my blog by Brendan Carr, a highly regarded lawyer out of Seoul, Korea:

"Korea already has a Labor Standards Act (LSA) which confers job security like you're describing the Chinese act wants to provide. Boy, does the LSA suck. Its primary and signal defect is the arbitrariness of having such a law in an environment where only the foreign companies, and big Korean companies, give a dang about compliance. Smaller Korean companies are beastly employers, but there are so many of them -- and they have so many other legal problems -- that it's not worthwhile for authorities to police them. So instead they focus on the errant multinational, who "ought to know better" because of the famous foreign brand.

Free legal advice to foreign employers: Fixed term contracts should start off at 12 months. Never hire anyone on an open-ended contract, which is employment for life ab initio, or a contract longer than 12 months (you can't enforce the longer period against the Korean employee anyway). And before that fixed term contract has renewed a second time, make a decision whether you feel comfortable having the employee around forever. Because that's the legal position after that contract has renewed twice.

From a competitive standpoint, as we hear the giant sucking sound over here in Seoul, we can say Hell, yes, China -- do it! as an equally bad labor law will level the employment-law playing field. But on an objective level, it sure seems stupid."

France is trying what you seem to be proposing and it has led to massive unemployment and a closing of the door to its underclass and an opening of the door to massive class struggle. If your goal is to fuel the flames of class struggle by increasing unemployment in China, then your solution makes sense. But if your goal is to employ as many people as possible at decent jobs, then permanent employment is not the answer.

I am not sure what world you are living in, but in the world in which I operate, laws have very real repurcussions on human beings and it is unfair to those human beings to institute "ideal" laws at their expense. Safe working conditions, yes. A maximum number of hour work week, yes. A minimum wage, yes. But permanent employment will lead to increased unemployment and if that is what you want for China, just say so.

If your goal in calling for permanent employment in China is to support the American worker (and workers in other countries besides China), fine, but you should at least make this clear.

I should have credited you for not falling for the "China cares" half of the NYT article and on that I do agree with you. Chinese workers should have the right to form independent, free unions. Then those unions can fight it out with the companies with whom their members work and there will be far less need for either government or pundit involvement.