Industrial relations at a crossroad in China - what it means for China's future?
Chan-Hee Lee (李昌徽)(国際労働機関(ILO)北京事務所 労使関係・社会対話担当上級専門家/社会科学研究所客員教授)

Prospects for Collective Bargaining in China
Bill W.K. Taylor(香港城市大学 公共・社会管理学部准教授/社会科学研究所客員教授 )

日時:2011年 1月13日 15時-18時
場所:経済学研究科学術交流棟(小島ホール)2F 小島コンファレンスルーム[map]

Industrial relations at a crossroad in China - what it means for China's future?

 China enters a turning point of industrial relations, illustrated by changing legal frameworks, rapid expansion of official trade unions and collective consultation machinery, and rising number of disputes — particularly collective disputes. Reform of industrial relations is seen as an essential component of China’s new economic development model。Can China succeed in industrial relations reform, which would facilitate the adjustment of economic development pattern?
 Dr. Lee, a senior specialist on industrial relations of the ILO Beijing Office, will present an overview of changing landscape of industrial relations system in China, analyze social and economic implications of the change, and highlight key challenges, based on his work and survey in China.

 Chan-Hee Lee (李昌徽)氏


Prospects for Collective Bargaining in China

Opportunities to develop meaningful collective bargaining in China have developed but there remain essentially two distinct industrial relations systems, in which collective employment relations are regulated. On the one side, there is a formal ACFTU sponsored system for signing collective agreements, and on the other, there is some evidence of meaningful but weak collective bargaining at the workplace level taking place between workers and employers. I will draw on three sources: 2 PhD students examining official collective agreements 10 years apart, a study with Li Qi of union organising strategies with on-going observations of union activities and a recent investigation commissioned by a foreign government to review their project funding efficacy. The overall conclusion is twofold  strikes are being seen as the cause of crisis in social stability in China for which the ACFTU is charged with reducing but strikes may be seen as the catalysts for improvement, a means to force bargaining on reluctant employers. An employer faced with angry workers who fight (strike) rather than flight (resign) may engage these workers in compromise. Second, the official regulatory system is relying on an agency or proxy for worker representation, which is bankrupt. The ACFTU cannot represent the interests of workers without mechanisms in place to ensure the workers’ interests are being represented.


The introduction of the Employment Contract Law (January 2008) and the Mediation and Arbitration of Labour Disputes Law (May 2008) has stimulated increasing interest domestically and internationally in Chinese workers rights. Although the economic tsunami of late 2008 onwards has led to the suspension of many of the legal provisions in the Labour Contract Law the high expectations of the 2008 enactments is now subsiding into an improved but not transformed employment situation. The ACFTU at various levels is emboldened to push for new legislation on a range of matters, from wages for union cadres in enterprises to explicit right to strike provisions. The debate which led to the 2008 legislation probably marks a watershed in the way Chinese authorities wish to deal with labour issues, and although the forces trying to resist this legislative direction are becoming better organized and active, there will be more laws protecting workers’ rights. From my personal view, however, the laws are more successful in advancing substantive interests of workers and much less able to promote procedures and mechanisms to protect rights or allow workers to advance their own interests. For this reason, examining collective ‘bargaining’ is a useful barometer of possibility for advancing procedural aspects of the Chinese industrial relations system.

Formal system

I found that whilst there is a good deal of effort and experimentation in the pursuit of collective agreements the motivations and implementation process are at odds with meaningful progress towards any form of bargaining or worker involvement. Depending on other presentations, I may be brief in this section. The main points are that Chinese law, whilst not precluding bargaining, emphasises the signing of collective agreements. Second, the legal language implies worker involvement in formulating the contents or approving (negotiated) agreements but only in workplaces where there are workers congresses is there real provision for such worker involvement. In practice, not just workers are ignorant of whether an agreement has been signed which covers them, employers are also sometimes unsure. The problem stems from the procedures the ACFTU adopts to achieve signing quotas. Moreover, once an agreement has been signed one year, it might lapse after this (Wal-Mart cases). There are cases where renewal of an agreement is taken as an opportunity to extend coverage for workers but in general negotiations between union officials and employers are usually focused on pay, neglecting other issues. Nevertheless, over the 10 year period to 2010, the agreements are more comprehensive, more likely to give workers at or above the legal minimum requirements and cover more workplaces. They, however, bear little resemblance to collective bargaining.

Informal system

Sometimes organized and supported by NGOs, who have spent a lot of effort in capacity building ‘key’ workers and through networks of contacts and training, and sometimes spontaneously (e.g. Honda in summer 2010); workers seek to make collective agreements with employers directly. The common features are: 1. Bargaining takes place after a dispute occurs, 2. Third parties are involved at some point in the process, usually the local labour bureau 3. The official unions either do not participate or actively impede the process, 4. Elections are organized among workers to appoint representatives for purposes of negotiation with employers, 5. The process increasingly leads either to greater industrial ‘harmony’ as a result, or, failing this, radicalization of some workers who resign and disperse to other workplaces. 6. Among workers generally, there remains a poor understanding of procedural rights, and perhaps an expectation that it is the duty of the government to guarantee ‘fair’ terms and conditions of employment (although I would not equate this with passivity).

Bill W.K. Taylor氏

ウォーリック大学大学院在学中の1980年代後半に国費留学生として一橋大学に2年間留学し、日本の労使関係論を学んだ。その成果は、イギリスに進出した日本企業の労働組織をテーマとする博士論文‘Work organisation in the consumer electronics industry: theoretical and case study analyses’に結実している。
大学院修了後は、香港城市大学公共・社会管理学部で講師、助教授、准教授として教育・研究に従事。当初は日本の社会経済などを教えていたが、香港での社会的要請に従い、中国に進出した日本企業の労使関係、さらには中国の労使関係そのものに研究の重点を移し、その成果は2003年の共著書 ‘Industrial Relations in China’ をはじめ数多くの雑誌論文として公表されている。