A provincial government has introduced new legislation that allows for democratically elected workers’ delegations to negotiate collective labour contracts with management. China Labour Bulletin hopes the new rules will be enforced and that the local unions can use them to engage in meaningful and effective bargaining with management.
In a stated attempt to safeguard workers rights and interests and reduce labour disputes, the Hebei provincial government has implemented new Regulations on Enterprise Collective Consultations between Labour and Management. China’s first provincial level legislation on collective consultations, which went into effect on 3 January, specifies that the negotiation process between labour and management “should be open and equal, seeking consensus, and giving equal weight to the interests of the enterprise and the workers, safeguard workers’ actual pay levels, and conform to enterprise productivity levels and local economic conditions.”
Significantly the regulations explicitly state that where there is no trade union at the enterprise, the workers’ representatives in the negotiations should be “democratically elected by a majority of employees.” Where there is a union, representatives should be recommended (tuijian) by the union, and scrutinized by the workers’ congress. Delegations from both sides should comprise the same number of representatives, and each side may include experts or advisors from outside their ranks to assist in the negotiations but these outside parties should not exceed one third of the total delegation.
The regulations outline in detail the scope of the negotiations, which focus on wage levels but include a wide-range of pay and benefit related issues, including methods and times of wage payment, subsidies and allowances, holidays, sick leave and maternity leave, as well as the length and conditions of renewal of the collective labour contract. They specify that the workers’ remuneration agreed in the collective contract can not be lower than the local minimum wage, and that the remuneration specified in individual workers’ contracts can not be lower than the terms specified in the collective contract.
The legislation seems beautifully crafted and designed to be acceptable to all sides, but, as CLB has pointed out on numerous occasions, these laws need to be enforced on the ground. Instead of saying negotiations “should” (yingdang) be open and equal, it would better if the legislation stated that the negotiations “must” (bixu) be open and equal. What will happen if management refuses to engage in collective consultations with democratically elected workers representatives? Will they be sanctioned by the local labour bureau? More importantly, the workers should have ability to back up their negotiations with the right to strike.
Crucially the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) must not simply use this new legislation to impose more mass produced collective contracts on enterprises but take this opportunity to gain valuable experience in pilot projects that help develop genuine collective bargaining at the factory level. The ACFTU should not waste yet another opportunity offered by new legislation by adopting its usual sloganeering and publicity seeking approach, but actually do practical work that helps employees protect their rights and earn a decent wage.