In China, the year of 2011 has begun with the naissance of regional regulations concerning collective bargaining, some of which are born with such flowery names as “democratic management ordinance for enterprises.” These regions include Shanghai, Tianjin1, Zhejiang province, Fujian province and the Ningxia Hui Nationality Autonomous Region. More such regional regulations are expected this year for Guangdong province, Hunan province, Shenzhen city and so on.
These regional regulations may sound different by name but they share the same legislative purpose: to protect workers’ rights, to stabilize labor relationships and to seek mutual-development of enterprises and their employees. This echoes one of the national policies, that of Harmonious Society. The recent 12th 5-Year National Development Plan also touches on the topic of collective bargaining and pledges to offer the people a better life.
A few things can explain the increase of this type of regulation in China. The labor strikes and workers’ suicide actions that took place in 2010 brought much more tension to both central and local governments and employers, who worried that strikes may turn into an unstoppable wave of instability. In addition, the ever-rising consumer price index, along with the skyrocketing housing price, makes life more difficult for those who rely on a fixed monthly wage, as their limited income is actually losing buying power. Therefore, the regulations mentioned above might be considered as a remediation action by the local governments, which aim to ease public concerns and possible social unrest.
Then next possible question may be to what extent these regulations will impact workers in China.The answer is yet to be known. According to those enacted regulations, negotiations shall be led by the worker representative, who is either selected by the enterprise’s trade union or, when no trade union exists, elected by the workers themselves under the guidance of the trade union at the upper level or the industrial trade union. That is to say, the national trade union under the Chinese legal concept still plays an important role in this process. In addition, these regulations only set the time frame for either party’s response, but do not address what happens if either party (mostly the employer) fails to respond to the collective bargaining proposal. That leaves a question as to how these regulations will be implemented effectively.
As a matter of fact, the regulations on collective bargaining did not originate just this year. They first appeared years ago as opinions or trial procedures. In 2000, the Labor Ministry2 issued “The Trial Procedures on the collective bargaining of wage”. In 2005, Jiangsu province issued “The Opinions on the Full Promotion of Wage Collective Bargaining System in Enterprises”. Similar official documents were also regulated by Guangdong province and Anhui province in 2008, when PRC Labor Contract Law was enacted.
It seems that the previous legal opinions or trial procedures did not achieve any effect throughout the years, which is why a similar policy now has be to be escalated in the form of ordinances or regulations. However, it is uncertain if we need to wait another 10 years before collective bargaining in China becomes more promising and effective.
1. Both Shanghai and Tianjin are Directly Governed by the Central Government
2. The Labor Ministry is now named as “The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security of the Peoples’ Republic of China.