Shenzhen – Leading the Way

Shenzhen has long been at the forefront of social and economic change in China, and this is certainly the case in the field of labour rights. Labour rights groups and citizen agents (gongmin dailiren) are particularly active in the city, and both the municipal government and official trade union seem willing to engage constructively with these groups and respond positively to the demands of labour. In this issue of the CLB Magazine we list a few examples from our website of recent labour rights developments in Shenzhen.
On 1 July, the Shenzhen government raised the city's minimum wage by nearly 20 percent to 1,000 yuan a month, the highest level in China, indicating its willingness to respond quickly to the needs of the city's working population, already hard hit by rising prices.
In December last year, the Shenzhen Federation of Trade Unions co-hosted a ground-breaking conference on collective bargaining, and in April this year, Wang Tongxin, Vice-chairman of the Shenzhen FTU, urged the local government and society at large to take a much more relaxed approach to labour disputes and strikes describing them "as natural as arguments between a husband and wife." Wang called on the government to establish guidelines for strike action, and thus enable the peaceful resolution of disputes. Subsequently, the government did exactly that when it issued its Draft Regulations on the Growth and Development of Harmonious Labour Relations in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, heralded by Chen Yu, a trade union official from Shantou, as bringing strike action within the scope of legal regulation and thereby making the right to strike "only one step away."
One of Shenzhen's most prestigious companies, telecommunications giant Huawei, has been under the national media spotlight over the last year, both for its aborted attempt to lay off thousands of long-serving employees, and for the rash of suicides and unnatural deaths at its Shenzhen headquarters, which focused attention on the company's aggressive "wolf culture" and the intense pressure felt by many employees because of it.
But while Shenzhen may have taken the lead in promoting labour rights, many other regional governments are not far behind. The central Chinese city of Luoyang has been noticeably active in promoting factory-wide collective labour contracts, although trade union officials in the city have admitted that a lack of legal compulsion has made implementation of the programme an uphill struggle.
Nonetheless, as CLB Director Han Dongfang noted in his testimony to the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China hearing in Washington DC on 18 June: "Local and regional governments across China are responding to rapidly changing economic and social conditions and workers' demands by introducing new labour regulations and provisions designed both to protect workers" rights and to improve relations between labour and management."
Despite the serious and widespread problems faced by workers in China everyday, these positive signs led Han to conclude that there is cause for optimism, indeed, he said:
The Chinese government has a historic opportunity to create a system of peaceful negotiation between labour and management in which both sides respect each other, the negotiation process and the resultant legal contract. If it has the vision and courage to do so, Beijing will take a significant step towards realizing its own goal of creating a "harmonious society," one in which citizens not only have confidence in and respect for the law, but also are active participants in the legal process and play a role in promoting greater social justice for all.
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