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As China Aids Labor, Unrest Is Still Rising

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On a hot morning in late May, while some 2,000 workers at a Honda parts factory were striking in China’s south, 100 irate employees at a hotel in the heart of the capital staged their own protest.

The Honda workers got lots of publicity. The hotel employees were mostly ignored. But the undercurrent was the same: labor disputes are becoming a common feature of the Chinese economic landscape.

Chinese workers are much more willing these days to defend their rights and demand higher wages, encouraged by recent policies from the central government aimed at protecting laborers and closing the income gap. Chinese leaders dread even the hint of Solidarity-style labor activism. But they have moved to empower workers by pushing through labor laws that signaled that central authorities would no longer tolerate poor workplace conditions, legal scholars and Chinese labor experts say.

The laws, enacted in 2008, were intended to channel worker frustrations through a system of arbitration and courts so no broader protest movements would threaten political stability.

But if recent strikes and a surge in arbitration and court cases reflect a rising worker consciousness partly rooted in awareness of greater legal rights, they also underscore new challenges in China. The labor laws have raised expectations, but still leave workers relatively powerless by Western standards. The Communist Party-run legal system cannot cope with the exploding volume of labor disputes. And legal enforcement by local officials loosened when the global economic crisis hit China and resulted in factory shutdowns.

If the expected revaluation of the renminbi, the Chinese currency, makes exports less competitive, then local officials and mainland companies may collude to ignore laws and ensure that labor costs stay low.

“It’s not enough simply to rely on laws,” said Liu Kaiming, the head of the Institute of Contemporary Observation, a labor advocacy organization in Shenzhen. “Laws only provide the bare minimum required.”

Weaknesses include the fact that Chinese workers still do not have the right to form unions independent of the one controlled by the government. The Labor Contract Law enacted in January 2008 tries to guarantee contracts for all full-time employees, but leaves many details vague. Another law enacted in May 2008 helped streamline the system of arbitration and lawsuits, but civil courts and arbitration committees, which are made up of government employees, have been overwhelmed by a flood of cases. Meanwhile, because of lax enforcement, companies dodge other labor laws by cheating on minimum wage requirements and overtime pay.

Can China manage expectations?

Looks like the people are wanting more freedom.

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Is this the long awaited China Threads Day? - RB has (as I type) three of his own.

With so many appearing at one time I think we need a China Threads day poll thread.

I know who I'm voting for :rolleyes:

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  • 433 Brexit, House prices and Summer 2020

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