AS CHINA’S economy slows, and labour-intensive manufacturing moves elsewhere looking for cheaper workers, anxious and angry employees are becoming ever bolshier. According to China Labour Bulletin, an NGO in Hong Kong, the quantity of strikes and labour protests reported in 2014 doubled to a lot more than 1,300. In the last quarter they rose threefold year-on-year, with factory workers, taxi drivers and teachers throughout the country demanding better treatment.
The authorities often respond with heavy-handedness: rounding up activists and crushing independent labour groups. But in parts of the country, they also have begun to give state-controlled unions more capability to put pressure on management. Officials, usually in cahoots with factory bosses, are starting to view a requirement to placate workers, too.
Independent unions are banned in China. Labour organisations must be associated with the state-controlled All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), whose constitution describes the working class as “the leading class of China” but which often sides with management. Lately, officials have stepped up efforts to unionise workforces, specifically in privately run factories where they fear a lack of unions might encourage independent ones to cultivate. But official unions have largely refrained from baring any teeth.
New regulations in the southern province of Guangdong, the location of a great deal of China’s labour-intensive manufacturing and several from the strikes (see map), might begin to change that. They codify the proper of workers to take part in collective bargaining; that is certainly, to negotiate their regards to employment through representatives who speak for all employees. The guidelines take advantage of the term “collective consultation”, which in Chinese sounds less confrontational compared to usual term. But, in writing a minimum of, they give the state unions greater ability to initiate negotiations with management as an alternative to, as previously, confining themselves largely to organising leisure activities and hoping that workers stay docile.
Meng Han, strike security companies in Guangzhou, the provincial capital, might have welcomed a much more proactive approach by official-union leaders. He was published this past year after nine months in jail when planning on taking matters into their own hands and leading a protest needed of higher wages. “China’s unions do not belong to the workers,” Mr Meng complains. The latest rules is needed satisfy his main demand, that workers like him who happen to be hired on short-term contracts through employment agencies should be paid similar to permanent staff (they commonly are paid far less). The regulations say there ought to be “equal buy equal work”.
Guangdong’s aim is not really to embolden workers, but to have their grievances from erupting into open protest that may turn from the government. Huang Qiaoyan of Zhongshan University in Guangzhou says businesses in Hong Kong, which control a lot of Guangdong’s factories, opposed the brand new rules, fearing they might lead to even higher labour costs. Wages are actually rising fast, partly because of shortage of migrant labour. Although the government is less inclined than it once ended up being to heed such concerns. It really has been raising minimum-wage levels, one of its aims being to upgrade Guangdong’s industry by pushing out low-end, polluting factories. The latest rules could help do this too.
Employers have won some concessions. Drafters of the new rules dropped provisions which could have fined companies for resisting workers’ tries to bargain collectively and which would have banned the firing of employees for work stoppages due to management’s refusal to negotiate with workers’ representatives. The regulations require over fifty percent of your company’s workers to back up collective-bargaining before such action can begin. Drafts had called for thresholds of just one-third or less.
The regulations effectively shut the doorway to the kind of spontaneously-formed teams of workers which may have often taken the lead in Guangdong’s strikes. Employees must channel str1ke requests for consultation through unions within the ACFTU.
But by using on greater responsibility for handling disputes, the ACFTU is additionally dealing with higher risk, says Aaron Halegua newest York University. He believes workers will probably step up pressure around the official unions to represent them better; if they fail, workers could activate the unions and also factory bosses. The brand new rules stop far short of permitting strikes, but Mr Meng, the protection guard, sees a hint of change. Not long ago, he says, many people were afraid even going to mention the saying. “Now it is actually used at all times. To ensure is some progress.”