Friday, October 13, 2006

Work for the Union Label?

The New York Times reports on a proposed new law that would dramatically increase the power of China's labor unions - at least on paper:
China is planning to adopt a new law that seeks to crack down on sweatshops and protect workers’ rights by giving labor unions real power for the first time since it introduced market forces in the 1980’s.

The move, which underscores the government’s growing concern about the widening income gap and threats of social unrest, is setting off a battle with American and other foreign corporations that have lobbied against it by hinting that they may build fewer factories here...

...It would apply to all companies in China, but its emphasis is on foreign-owned companies and the suppliers to those companies...

...But it is not clear how effectively such a new labor law would be carried out through this vast land because local officials have tended to ignore directives from the central government or seek ways around them.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. China's only legal union is controlled by the state - but still, giving an organization of workers the ability to negotiate contracts and working conditions brings with it the possibility of empowerment outside of strict CCP control. The article also notes:
In a surprisingly democratic move, China asked for public comment on the draft law last spring and received more than 190,000 responses, mostly from labor activists. The American Chamber of Commerce sent in a lengthy response with objections to the proposals. The European Chamber of Commerce also responded.

The law would impose heavy fines on companies that do not comply. And the state-controlled union — the only legal union in China — would gain greater power through new collective-bargaining rights or pursuing worker grievances and establishing work rules. One provision in the proposed law reads, “Labor unions or employee representatives have the right, following bargaining conducted on an equal basis, to execute with employers collective contracts on such matters as labor compensation, working hours, rest, leave, work safety and hygiene, insurance, benefits, etc.”

No comments: