Labour disputes continue to escalate in Beijing

11 December 2009
The number of workers filing grievances with the Beijing municipal authorities reached 80,000 by the end of November, nearly double the number last year, according to a local trade union official, quoted by China Daily.

The capital’s labour dispute arbitration committees (LDACs) have so far accepted more than 70,000 cases (many involving more than one worker), compared with 49,000 cases in the same period last year, and 26,000 cases in 2007, said Zhang Hengshun, director of municipal trade union’s law department.

The massive rise in labour disputes, which has been mirrored nationwide, was related in no small part to the passage of the Labour Contract Law, which went into effect on 1 January 2008, and the Labour Dispute Mediation and Arbitration Law, implemented on 1 May 2008. The latter simplified and streamlined the arbitration process and eliminated the application fee for filing a case with the LDAC.

As a consequence, Beijing’s understaffed LDACs have been swamped, and arbiters left with an ever-increasing backlog of cases. A routine case that should take less than two months to resolve, now takes around 10 months to be concluded, according to a Beijing lawyer, also quoted by China Daily.

The arbitration committees are trying to clear the backlog with the increased use of mediation – as noted in CLB’s new introduction to China’s labour dispute system. However mediation does not necessarily benefit workers because employers can drag out the proceedings and only offer only a fraction of the compensation they would have to pay if they went through more formal channels.

The courts in Beijing have seen a similar spike in labour disputes. As of 10 November, the Beijing Second Intermediate People’s Court had accepted and heard 4,506 labour dispute cases, 180 percent more than in 2008, the court said in a report issued on 9 December. More than half of these labour disputes involved overtime payments, an issue that has come particularly to the fore in the wake of the global economic crisis, as employers try to squeeze more work out of their employees without proper compensation.
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