AS CHINA’S economy slows, and labour-intensive manufacturing moves elsewhere searching for cheaper workers, anxious and angry personnel are becoming ever bolshier. In accordance with China Labour Bulletin, an NGO in Hong Kong, the quantity of strikes and labour protests reported in 2014 doubled to a lot more than 1,300. In the last quarter they rose threefold year-on-year, with factory workers, taxi drivers and teachers country wide demanding better treatment.
The authorities often respond with heavy-handedness: rounding up activists and crushing independent labour groups. Nevertheless in areas, they also have begun to give state-controlled unions more power to put pressure on management. Officials, usually in cahoots with factory bosses, are starting to find out a desire to placate workers, too.
Independent unions are banned in China. Labour organisations need to be connected to their state-controlled All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), whose constitution describes the working class as “the leading class of China” but which usually sides with management. Lately, officials have stepped up efforts to unionise workforces, specially in privately run factories where they fear a lack of unions might encourage independent ones to increase. But official unions have largely refrained from baring any teeth.
New regulations in the southern province of Guangdong, home to most of China’s labour-intensive manufacturing and several of its strikes (see map), might set out to change that. They codify the proper of workers to engage in collective bargaining; that is certainly, to barter their regards to employment through representatives who speak for many employees. The rules use the term “collective consultation”, which in Chinese sounds less confrontational compared to the usual term. But, in writing no less than, they offer the state unions greater power to initiate negotiations with management as opposed to, as in the past, confining themselves largely to organising leisure activities and hoping that workers stay docile.
Meng Han, labor unrest security in Guangzhou, the provincial capital, would have welcomed a more proactive approach by official-union leaders. He was published just last year after nine months in jail for taking matters into his very own hands and leading a protest popular of higher wages. “China’s unions usually do not are part of the workers,” Mr Meng complains. The latest rules is needed satisfy his main demand, that workers like him who happen to be hired on short-term contracts through employment agencies ought to be paid just like permanent staff (they commonly are paid a lot less). The regulations say there must be “equal pay for equal work”.
Guangdong’s aim will not be to embolden workers, but to have their grievances from erupting into open protest that might turn from the government. Huang Qiaoyan of Zhongshan University in Guangzhou says businesses in Hong Kong, which control several of Guangdong’s factories, opposed the new rules, fearing they will result in even higher labour costs. Wages are already rising fast, partly as a result of shortage of migrant labour. But the government is less inclined than it once was to heed such concerns. It really has been raising minimum-wage levels, among its aims being to upgrade Guangdong’s industry by pushing out low-end, polluting factories. The brand new rules might help accomplish this too.
Employers have won some concessions. Drafters from the new rules dropped provisions which will have fined companies for resisting workers’ efforts to bargain collectively and which would have banned the firing of employees for work stoppages due to management’s refusal to negotiate with workers’ representatives. The regulations require over fifty percent of the company’s workers to support collective-bargaining before such action can begin. Drafts had called for thresholds of only one-third or less.
The regulations effectively shut the entranceway to the sort of spontaneously-formed teams of workers that have often taken the lead in Guangdong’s strikes. Employees must channel str1ke requests for consultation through unions underneath the ACFTU.
But if you take on greater responsibility for handling disputes, the ACFTU is likewise dealing with higher risk, says Aaron Halegua newest York University. He believes workers may very well boost pressure in the official unions to represent them better; once they fail, workers could start up the unions in addition to factory bosses. The new rules stop far short of permitting strikes, but Mr Meng, the protection guard, sees a hint of change. Not long ago, he says, many individuals were afraid even going to mention the phrase. “Now it really is used on a regular basis. In order that is a few progress.”