China has the worlds largest labor force, making it home to thousands of companies. However, the success of these companies is not passed down to the workers, and there are several complaints regarding their treatment (Leung, 22). Although the country is governed by Communist ideologies, in reality, the plight of workers in China is largely ignored. While workers around the world have the freedom to form trade unions, workers in China find it difficult to form independent trade unions to fight for their rights or strike.
Labor laws within China outline the minimum wage and maximum hours that employees should work. However, there is minimal enforcement of these laws and employees are routinely overworked and mistreated. In 2008, labor laws were enacted with the aim of putting in place a formal platform by which workers can air their grievances (Shen, 27). Despite this, workers in China are still considered powerless and are at the mercy of their employers. According to the labor laws, trade unions are considered to be an arm of the national state. They, therefore, receiving their funding from the ruling Communist Party. In return, the party has a role in deciding which leaders run the trade unions. Unlike in western nations, the unions have no authority to negation and cannot facilitate agreements with the management of state-controlled corporations. While more than 60% of Beijing companies have established unions, they rarely represent the interests of the employees (Chen 237). They are usually established by owners of the company and are dormant. This is in direct contrast to unions in western countries that are actively engaged in lobbying for better-working conditions and wages for their members.
Currently, the only unions accepted by law are under the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). Although it is strongly linked to the management, the body has more than 150 million members (Chen 239). Based on this, there has been a steady decline in the number of people joining the union. Instead of lobbying for working, these government-backed unions are mainly used to oversee the workers and prevent any form of unrest among them. None of them is allowed to strike, although none of the Chinese laws directly states this fact. Independent trade unions without any ties to the Communist Party are considered illegal and are not allowed in China. This is because there are assumed to pose a threat to the governing party by recruiting supporters. There have been attempts to establish unions, but these efforts have been thwarted by police officers and the masterminds sent to prison. An example is in regards to Li Jianfeng, who was jailed in October 2003 (Leung, 27). His crime was attempting to establish a trade union without the backing of the Communist Party. He was sentenced to 16-year imprisonment.
However, discontent among workers has resulted in increased strikes against their employers. In one of Chinas leading manufacturing towns, Guangdong, the number of strikes has doubled in the last year to over 2000 (Shen, 27). This has mainly been fuelled by a decline in the Chinese economy that has resulted in many employees being laid off without any benefits. Other reasons that can be attributed to the increasing rate of strikes include demand for fairness in electing the union officials, higher wages and control of their trade unions at the factory level. Since the right to strike is not within the law, participants in these strikes are usually singled out and dismissed, detained or constantly harassed by both their employers and the authorities.
The increasing level of discontent among the workers has a negative impact on the productivity of Chinese laborers and the economy. As such, various solutions can be used to deal with this problem. The first solution is by having a complete overhaul of the ACFTU. This would involve removal of all the current officials who have connections with the Communist party and putting in place individuals who are elected by the workers. It is only in this way that the officials will be able to represent the actual needs of the workers. The overhauled body will also ensure the enforcement of all laws relating to workers. According to the laws, workers have a right to allowance and social security. The strength of this approach is there is already a structure in existence that supports the rights of employees. The only issue is that the laws are not enforced since the companies are protected by the union officials. Based on this, having a complete overhaul of the ACFTU officials will ensure a new set of leaders who will ensure all the organization meets all its objectives (Shen, 31). The weakness of this approach is that the Communist Party has a heavy influence in deciding who leads the ACFTU. As such, there are high chances that the new leaders will have to receive approval from the party, and they can become compromised.
The second solution is for the government to pass laws that allow the setting up of trade unions. The current system is heavily influenced by the state, and this is one of the main causes of unrest by the employees. When employees have the right to form their unions, they can easily negotiate for better wages and working conditions (Chen 245). Several strikes in the country have resulted in workers receiving better treatment, showing that employers are willing to make changes but lack the push factor to facilitate this. Independent unions will, therefore, act as a watchdog and ensure firms treat their members fairly to facilitate continued productivity.
The strength of this solution is that it will empower workers in various industries to join the independent trade unions, thereby making collective agreements easier to make. Instead of using force, the management of the organization and the elected leaders of the unions can sit down and find solutions that are fitting for both of them. A disadvantage of this approach is the process involved in ensuring it becomes feasible. Setting up independent trade unions requires goodwill from the ruling party to enable them to pass the required laws. However, there is a close link between politicians and the industries, and they cannot pass laws that will reduce their profits and their influence over the employees.
In conclusion, this paper analyzes the problems Chinese workers encounter in forming unions and organizing strikes and the suggested solutions to these problems. There is sufficient evidence that shows the suppression of Chinese workers. To ensure their continued productivity, there should be changes to the current system to ensure an improvement in the welfare of workers. Otherwise, the strikes and the unrest will continue, resulting in negative effects on the economy.
Chen, Feng. "Industrial restructuring and workers' resistance in China."Modern China (2003): 237-262.
Leung, Parry P. Labor Activists and the New Working Class in China: Strike Leaders Struggles. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
Shen, Jie. Labour disputes and their resolution in China. Elsevier, 2007.
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