Thursday, July 15, 2010
Ron Brown (Hawaii) has a fascinating commentary entitled, Reform for the Benefit of Workers, in the July 14, 2010 edition of the China Daily.
Here's a taste:
It appears the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is unable or unwilling to reform itself to better represent workers' rights and interests in the absence of a clear political decision by higher authorities to do so. Though I believe there has been measurable improvement in the ACFTU's representation of workers, it tends to be regional and inconsistent.
Deng Xiaoping led the country to economic success by adhering to the theory of "economic reform first, political reform second". Because of China's economic success, it is clear to many that if labor laws are to be improved the time for political reform is now.
The time has come to start the process of completing the promise of Deng. Most at the conference believed the ACFTU cannot reform itself. In fact, it needs to become a true social organization or else China should expect many more "Honda-style strikes". The repercussions for China will be economic and political.
The key to political reform in labor laws and labor relations is to allow the ACFTU to more freely represent and secure the interests of the workers in contractual and statutory protections and benefits. Perhaps a clarification and adjustment of primary functions would be in order. Let the governments look after the overall welfare of its citizens through political policies at the macro-level, the employers look after economic advancement, the ACFTU look after the interests of the workers, and the administration protect society through good management and regulation of the dynamics of those functions.
A possible way for China to implement that reform may be to adopt Deng's approach of "crossing a river by feeling the stones", that is, to modify the labor laws and their enforcement on a trial basis in a particular city, region or industry. This "interim experiment" could allow the ACFTU to engage more actively in worker advocacy and collective bargaining, and even initiate strikes as an economic weapon to achieve the goals.
I believe Ron is one of the most insightful of American legal academics on Chinese labor laws. Read this whole commentary to read his insightful analysis.