AS CHINA’S economy slows, and labour-intensive manufacturing moves elsewhere looking for cheaper workers, anxious and angry personnel are becoming ever bolshier. In accordance with China Labour Bulletin, an NGO in Hong Kong, the volume of strikes and labour protests reported in 2014 doubled to greater than 1,300. Within the last quarter they rose threefold year-on-year, with factory workers, taxi drivers and teachers across the country demanding better treatment.
The authorities often respond with heavy-handedness: rounding up activists and crushing independent labour groups. But also in parts of the country, they have also begun to give state-controlled unions more ability to put pressure on management. Officials, usually in cahoots with factory bosses, are starting to see a desire to placate workers, too.
Independent unions are banned in China. Labour organisations really need to be connected to their 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. In recent times, officials have stepped up efforts to unionise workforces, specifically in privately run factories where they fear not enough unions might encourage independent ones to increase. But official unions have largely refrained from baring any teeth.
New regulations from the southern province of Guangdong, house to a lot of China’s labour-intensive manufacturing and several from the strikes (see map), might start to change that. They codify the proper of workers to take part in collective bargaining; that may be, to negotiate their relation to employment through representatives who speak for all those employees. The rules take advantage of the term “collective consultation”, which in Chinese sounds less confrontational in comparison to the usual term. But, in writing at least, they give the official 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, labor strike security companies in Guangzhou, the provincial capital, will have welcomed an even more proactive approach by official-union leaders. He was launched just last year after nine months in jail to take matters into his own hands and leading a protest sought after of higher wages. “China’s unions do not belong to the workers,” Mr Meng complains. The brand new rules is needed satisfy his main demand, that workers like him that are hired on short-term contracts through employment agencies needs to be paid just like permanent staff (they commonly are paid a lot less). The regulations say there has to be “equal purchase equal work”.
Guangdong’s aim is not really to embolden workers, but to have their grievances from erupting into open protest that could turn from the government. Huang Qiaoyan of Zhongshan University in Guangzhou says businesses in Hong Kong, which control many of Guangdong’s factories, opposed the newest rules, fearing they might lead to even higher labour costs. Wages already are rising fast, partly because of shortage of migrant labour. However the government is less inclined than it once ended up being to heed such concerns. It really has been raising minimum-wage levels, certainly one of its aims being to upgrade Guangdong’s industry by pushing out low-end, polluting factories. The brand new rules may help achieve this too.
Employers have won some concessions. Drafters of the new rules dropped provisions which will have fined companies for resisting workers’ attempts to bargain collectively and which will 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 aid collective-bargaining before such action may start. Drafts had called for thresholds of only one-third or less.
The regulations effectively shut the entrance to the type of spontaneously-formed categories of workers that have often taken the lead in Guangdong’s strikes. Employees must channel str1ke requests for consultation through unions underneath the ACFTU.
But through taking on greater responsibility for handling disputes, the ACFTU is additionally dealing with higher risk, says Aaron Halegua of New York University. He believes workers will probably improve pressure in the official unions to represent them better; should they fail, workers could switch on the unions as well as factory bosses. The brand new rules stop far lacking permitting strikes, but Mr Meng, the safety guard, sees a hint of change. Not long ago, he says, lots of people were afraid even going to mention the word. “Now it really is used on a regular basis. So that is a few progress.”