By Emily Conrad
Strong labor laws are seen as a necessity by most United States politicians; if workers are unhappy, politicians risk losing their seats at election time. In fact, labor laws, unionization, and political mobilization are often viewed hand-in-hand. In China, strong labor laws also take on extreme importance: labor laws maintain social stability – and social stability is to be maintained at all costs, as it is key to both China’s immense growth and the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party.
Steve Tu (Chinese name: Tu Yong Qian) is a professor at Renmin University in Beijing and an expert in China’s labor laws, specializing in human capital finance and sci-tech financial law. He visited the Tsinghua-SAIS scholars program to discuss China’s economic transformation and the development of China’s current labor law system, delving into both its challenges and successes. While most of Professor Tu’s presentation focused on case studies, students were excited to ask him about the legal framework of such issues as male-female equality in the workplace, as well as the challenges presented by informal employment such as Uber (a system which has taken off in China.) We were able to speak with Professor Tu after class to ask him a few questions:
Q: What do you think is the greatest legal challenge China has yet to face in regard to labor laws?
A: I think that we need to focus more on how to protect employers’ rights. A lot of focus has been dedicated to protecting the rights of the employee, and the laws that we currently have sufficiently protect them.
However, in present days, many Chinese potential employers chose to have their enterprises remain abroad in underdeveloped countries – partly because their relationships with the Chinese government are complicated. After thirty years of operating within developing China, many employers became wealthy through illegal actions and corruption. Thus, if the Chinese government would choose to implement laws strictly, repercussions from these enterprises’ past could potentially harm them. Thus, many choose to remain abroad. We need to have a sounder legal framework to protect them, as well as strengthening property laws.
Q: What is an example of a particularly successful law in China’s labor history?
A: In China, the economic opening began in 1978 and many laws were enacted in order to encourage the country’s economic development. Throughout the process, one of the challenges was not the laws themselves, but how to implement them well. In my opinion, one of the most successful laws was the Company Law of the early 1990s. Before the enactment of this law, people would hold ownership in a company, but without the law recognizing their investments in these companies. Their ownership was essentially nominal; not exactly real. The Company Law has been under revision several times since it was initially written, however it has established a very important legal framework. Nowadays, ownership in a company is more flexible and can be at a lower cost than ever before.
Q: For the Chinese government, social stability is of utmost importance, meaning that labor laws that protect workers take on a particularly significant role. Can you provide insights into this particular relationship?
A: Unfortunately, in China, most of us do not have the conscience to abide by law. A reason for this is the lack of faith and trust in government officials and the corruption which exists within the government. What we need to do in China is to erect a responsible authority which itself abides by the law. It is very important for a government to do this – and we need to construct a socialist country that works by a rule of law.
A primary concern should be stamping out corruption. President Xi Jinping, the highest authority in China, certainly has the correct objective. However, we need to make this objective into a reality and create a new image of our government.