Two Reports Highlight Trends in Chinese Labor Conditions

Han Dongfang, of the Hong Kong-based NGO China Labour Bulletin, recently testified before the Congressional-Executive Committee on China about the role of labor law in pushing legal reform in China:

Three major labour laws have been promulgated in the last year, and local governments across China have introduced new regulations aimed at protecting workers’ rights and improving relations between labour and management. Han pointed out in his testimony to the hearing on What Will Drive China’s Future Legal Development? Reports from the Field, that these laws have not been introduced because the government is particularly enlightened, but because workers’ protests against widespread and continued rights violations left it with little option but to change the law, as a means of forestalling increased labour conflict.

Han stressed, however, that legislative change was in and of itself not enough; laws have to be enforced and workers must be allowed to exercise their rights. More and more workers are using the labour arbitration and court system to seek redress for violations of their rights, and the majority of worker law suits have been successful. However, Han said, much still needs to be done. Both the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) and non-governmental organizations (), he said, had a key role to play in protecting and supporting workers’ rights and in establishing a system of peaceful and constructive dialogue between labour and management.

Meanwhile, Li Qiang, Executive Director of New York City based NGO China Labor Watch, released a report on deplorable conditions at a Puma sub-contractor, including:

* Excessive Overtime; workers are forced to work overtime, working about 12 hours a day on weekdays, at least 11.5 hours and sometimes even overnight on Saturdays.
* Workers are paid 64 cents an hour for each regular hour
[…]
* Poor dormitory conditions. Garbage can be seen everywhere in the hallway, and at least 80 workers sharing one bathroom and restroom.
* Questionable food conditions; Insects are often mixed with the food.
* High risk work conditions; workshops reek of an insistent mixture of chemical smell[s] that make workers feel uncomfortable and disgusted and the factory does not enforce workers to wear safety equipment unless audits are taking place.

Despite periodic reports of poor labor conditions in Chinese factories, wages are rising fast in China, indicative of improving conditions for many workers. The New York Times reports on wage related in both China and Vietnam.

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