Zhang Lijia

Former rocket factory worker and author Zhang Lijia discusses labor relations in China in an opinion piece at the South China Morning Post after a video about a dismissal of a worker caused an online uproar. “The government’s commitment to protect its workers is on the line here,” she argues.

Zhang Lijia:

This month, a short video attracted a huge amount of attention on China’s social media. In the clip, a female executive was seen sacking a male employee. When he protested that she had violated the country’s labour law, she spoke rudely to him, admitting: “I’ve violated the law – so what?” He could go ahead and sue her, she said, but he would never get anywhere because she “knew people” in labour arbitration.

The video has caused a public outcry and widespread condemnation. There is heated debate over how she could blatantly disregard the law, whether China’s labour laws were working well enough and how China can better protect worker rights.

Having once been a factory worker for 10 years, I maintain a keen interest in labour relations; I also feel for my fellow workers.

China enacted comprehensive labour legislation only in 2008, with the Labour Contract Law, the Labour Dispute Mediation and Arbitration Law, and the Employment Promotion Law – all important legal milestones aimed at addressing workers’ grievances and protecting their rights. In particular, the Labour Contract Law states that companies must provide each employee with a written contract and stipulates guidelines on termination: there should be a 30-day notice or an extra month’s salary in lieu.

After outraged netizens started digging around for the identity of the woman and the company, the Beijing-based chip design company issued a statement on January 8, apologising for causing the furore. It said its executive had been reprimanded and suspended from work. It also said the sacked worker was let go about five months into his six-month probation because of a lack of competence, and that the termination was lawful.

Labour disputes in China are a relatively new phenomenon and it is not uncommon for companies to fire workers just before the end of their probation. As economic and social inequalities increased with China’s opening up, so have labour tensions

Given the circumstances, the authorities must try harder to protect workers’ rights to fulfil their duty of care. They should thoroughly investigate the latest allegation of unfair dismissal and severely punish those who violate labour laws.

They should also introduce more legal aid, work to simplify the arbitration procedure, and ensure all verdicts are obeyed and wronged employees are properly compensated.

The government’s commitment to protect its workers is on the line here. China is a socialist country, built as a state for and of the workers. A failure to protect workers undercuts the Communist Party’s credibility, especially if the poor enforcement of labour laws is allowed to continue and cases start to mount.

More at the South China Morning Post.

Zhang Lijia is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need her at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

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