Changes in the World’s Workshop: How New Laws, More Demanding Workers, and Activist Trade Unions are Transforming the Chinese Workplace
Mary Gallagher, Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan
Description: In 2008, the Chinese government passed three ambitious labor laws to improve working conditions in Chinese companies and employment security for Chinese workers. Employers criticized these laws as a return to the age of the “iron rice bowl” under socialism, which guaranteed lifetime employment and extensive welfare benefits for all urban workers. Labor activists hoped these new laws will help close the gap between the high standards of Chinese “law-on-the-books” with its implementation and enforcement in reality. These protective measures coincided with the onset of the global financial crisis and a rapid decline in China’s export markets. The combination of more protective laws and greater economic volatility led to a rapid and unprecedented increase in labor conflict, including legal filings and large-scale strikes and demonstrations. In the wake of China’s recovery from the crisis, this conflict continues. Workers possess more awareness of their new rights; trade unions receive encouragement by the government to increase efforts to protect workers; and a labor shortage in manufacturing emboldens workers to press for higher wages and better conditions.
Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies (CCS) Sponsor: Berkeley Center for Law, Business and the Economy