China: Proposed new Draft Contract Law Fails to Guarantee Fundamental Rights

In a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao, the ITUC has raised serious concerns about the contents of a proposed new labour contract law (...)

Brussels, 29 May 2007: In a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao, the ITUC has raised serious concerns about the contents of a proposed new labour contract law, while recognising that some provisions of the draft law do “attempt to address some of the most crucial failings of current labour legislation”. Weak legislation, poor enforcement and the lack of trade union rights for China’s workers has left them especially vulnerable to exploitation. Mass lay-offs from state enterprises and massive migration from the rural to urban areas have also contributed to a huge pool of cheap labour of which many local- and foreign-owned companies have been able to take advantage. China’s female workforce has been particularly hard hit by state enterprise lay-offs, and young women in particular are disproportionately affected by violations of fundamental rights at work.

The new draft law does attempt to rectify some of the most serious problems in the existing legislation. In particular, punishment of employers who refuse to provide their workers with employment contracts should be easier in future, which the ITUC hopes will improve the situation of large numbers of workers who effectively have no protection at all.

In its letter to President Hu, the ITUC criticises a major failing of the draft law – the absence of any reference or commitment to allow workers in China to form and join independent trade unions and bargain collectively with employers in line with International Labour Organisation Conventions. “”The Chinese authorities have missed a real opportunity to allow their own citizens the best guarantee of decent work – the right to trade unions which they themselves control. Without this, employers will continue to be able to exploit their workforce virtually at will, and no amount of tinkering with regulations will change that”, said ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder.

The ITUC also criticises the Chinese authorities for their practice of detaining workers solely for the peaceful exercise of their right, recognised under international law, to freedom of association, and points to the appalling health and safety conditions under which many Chinese workers have to work. The letter to the Chinese President also condemns efforts by multinational corporations operating in China to oppose even the modest reforms set out in the draft law. “It is disgraceful that these companies, including well-known global brands which claim they want to contribute to China’s development, have been joining together to stop any reform so they can continue to derive profit from violations of the most fundamental labour standards in their China operations and supply chains”, said Ryder.

The ITUC also points to the need for the Chinese government to put in place effective mechanisms to ensure that the modest changes which are being introduced are in fact monitored and that employers are not able to evade compliance, which is so often the case at present.

Founded on 1 November 2006, the ITUC represents 168 million workers in 153 countries and territories and has 304 national affiliates.

For more information, please contact the ITUC Press Department on +32 2 224 0204 or +32 476 621 018.