The Guangdong provincial government is currently debating the latest draft of its Regulations on the Democratic Management of Enterprises (广东省企业民主管理条例 (草案修改二稿)), regulations that could, if implemented, finally open the door to genuine worker participation in collective bargaining in China.
According to Chinese media reports, these regulations will create a legally-binding mechanism whereby workers can demand and negotiate for pay increases. They state that if more than one fifth of the workforce at a particular factory asks for wage negotiations with management, the trade union at that enterprise must organize the democratic election of worker representatives to engage in such negotiations. If the enterprise does not have a union, the nearest district union is obliged to organize such elections.
This will give enterprise employees the legal right to democratically elect their own representatives to engage in collective wage negotiations with management. As China Labour Bulletin Executive Director Han Dongfang noted:
These regulations could turn out to be of great historical significance, both in terms of protecting workers' rights and in the transformation and smooth development of labour relations in China.
The Guangdong government first drafted its Regulations on the Democratic Management of Enterprises back in 2008. But the global economic crisis in the latter half of that year put an end to those deliberations. In the first half of this year, after nearly a dozen suicides of young workers at Foxconn, and a wave of strikes across the province, the provincial legislature hastened its revision of the regulations and shoehorned them into this year's legislative program. As the chairman of the standing committee of Guangdong's People's Congress, Ou Guangyuan, said, "These regulations have been substantially revised based on discussions with all interested parties in the wake of the problems manifest at Foxconn and Honda."
In response, Han Dongfang said:
It is obvious that the pressure of low pay, long working hours and poor working conditions that gave rise to the wave of strikes across Guangdong have elicited a timely and positive response from the government. The fact that, on this occasion, the government has not simply politicized workers' use of strike action, but rather used legislative means to steer unnecessary strikes towards collective consultations, shows that there has been an important change in the government's attitude towards workers' reasonable economic demands.
The collective consultation system has been in place for two decades now, but Guangdong's new regulations provide two very important additions to the existing framework. Firstly, the starting point for collective consultations is now very clear - a demand from 20 percent of the workforce - making collective consultations at last a viable proposition. Secondly, once the requisite number of workers request collective consultations, the trade union must organize the democratic election of delegates to engage in collective consultations, thereby confirming the key role of workers in wage negotiations, and encouraging district trade unions to finally get off the fence and actually stand on the side of workers.
Han Dongfang pointed out:
Both in terms of protecting workers' rights, and in raising domestic consumption and boosting sustainable economic development, China has no option but to establish a system of collective bargaining. It may take a long time to achieve, but at least now we have a good starting point. The deliberations of the Guangdong legislature could really press the start button for collective bargaining in China, especially since these new regulations establish the central role of workers in the system. As such, these regulations could be a landmark achievement.
For more information, please contact:
Director of Communications, China Labour Bulletin.
Tel. 852 2780 2187.