AS CHINA’S economy slows, and labour-intensive manufacturing moves elsewhere in search of cheaper workers, anxious and angry staff is becoming ever bolshier. Based on China Labour Bulletin, an NGO in Hong Kong, the quantity of strikes and labour protests reported in 2014 doubled to over 1,300. In the last quarter they rose threefold year-on-year, with factory workers, taxi drivers and teachers across the nation demanding better treatment.
The authorities often respond with heavy-handedness: rounding up activists and crushing independent labour groups. But also in areas, they also have begun to give state-controlled unions more ability to put pressure on management. Officials, usually in cahoots with factory bosses, are beginning to find out a requirement to placate workers, too.
Independent unions are banned in China. Labour organisations must be connected to the state-controlled All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), whose constitution describes the working class as “the leading class of China” but which normally sides with management. Lately, officials have stepped up efforts to unionise workforces, especially in privately run factories where they fear too little unions might encourage independent ones to develop. But official unions have largely refrained from baring any teeth.
New regulations inside the southern province of Guangdong, the location of a lot of China’s labour-intensive manufacturing and lots of of their strikes (see map), might commence to change that. They codify the correct of workers to engage in collective bargaining; that may be, to barter their regards to employment through representatives who speak for many employees. The rules take advantage of the term “collective consultation”, which in Chinese sounds less confrontational in comparison to the usual term. But, on paper at the very least, they provide the official unions greater capability to initiate negotiations with management as opposed to, as in past times, confining themselves largely to organising leisure activities and hoping that workers stay docile.
Meng Han, strike security Company in Guangzhou, the provincial capital, will have welcomed a far more proactive approach by official-union leaders. He was published just last year after nine months in jail for taking matters into his very own hands and leading a protest in demand of higher wages. “China’s unions tend not to participate in the workers,” Mr Meng complains. The newest rules is needed satisfy his main demand, that workers like him that are hired on short-term contracts through employment agencies ought to be paid similar to permanent staff (they commonly are paid a lot less). The regulations say there should be “equal purchase equal work”.
Guangdong’s aim is just not to embolden workers, but to have their grievances from erupting into open protest that might turn against the government. Huang Qiaoyan of Zhongshan University in Guangzhou says businesses in Hong Kong, which control several of Guangdong’s factories, opposed the new rules, fearing they would lead to even higher labour costs. Wages already are rising fast, partly due to a shortage of migrant labour. Nevertheless the government is less inclined than it once was to heed such concerns. It has been raising minimum-wage levels, among its aims being to upgrade Guangdong’s industry by pushing out low-end, polluting factories. The latest rules may help achieve this too.
Employers have won some concessions. Drafters of your new rules dropped provisions which will have fined companies for resisting workers’ efforts to bargain collectively and which would have banned the firing of employees for work stoppages resulting from management’s refusal to barter with workers’ representatives. The regulations require over fifty percent of any company’s workers to support collective-bargaining before such action can begin. Drafts had called for thresholds of just one-third or less.
The regulations effectively shut the entranceway to the type of spontaneously-formed categories of workers who have often taken the lead in Guangdong’s strikes. Employees must channel str1ke requests for consultation through unions under the ACFTU.
But by using on greater responsibility for handling disputes, the ACFTU is likewise taking on higher risk, says Aaron Halegua newest York University. He believes workers are likely to boost pressure around the official unions to represent them better; should they fail, workers could start up the unions in addition to factory bosses. The new rules stop far lacking permitting strikes, but Mr Meng, the protection guard, sees a hint of change. Not long ago, he says, lots of people were afraid even going to mention the term. “Now it is used at all times. In order that is a few progress.”