12/30/2005, 00.00
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Beijing admits to "widespread" violations against workers

Local governments, lazy and negligent, and unscrupulous entrepreneurs have come under fire. More than 80% of small and medium-sized enterprises do not give work contracts and often do not pay out wages.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Social stability in China "is seriously threatened by widespread violations of labour laws committed by industrialists protected by the negligence of local governments".

With these words, He Luli, vice-chairwoman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, presented the findings of a review of the application of China's labour laws. The inspection covered seven provinces and municipalities including Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Guangdong.

According to inspectors, the problem of salaries – reduced or unpaid – is "widespread" while "little attention [is paid] workers' rights" when it comes to extending contracts between entrepreneurs and the workforce. More than 80% of small and medium-sized enterprises "do not consider it necessary" to give their workers regular contracts.

"Mass incidents triggered by overdue salaries, especially by employers who escape and hide, are on the rise, seriously undermining social stability," He said while reporting to the committee.

The investigation found that most disputes arose out of the practice of forcing employees to sign blank pieces of papers as "contracts", with bosses later filling in the terms as they pleased. "Some of these contracts did not spell out wages of the staff and some even stipulated that the employers would not be held responsible for illness or even death in the workplace."

He added that "the lack of discipline and negligence of labour officials" were also to blame. "Some local governments fail to handle workers' complaints and reports because they are weak and inefficient ... Some workers had to wait over a year before they were paid even after they won arbitration," she said.

Chen Zhonglin, director of the law academy at Southwestern Politics and Law University and a representative to the National People's Congress, said the unemployment rate was another "key determining factor in creating this kind of situation". "Both our labour market and workers are facing the highest pressure because more than 40 million state-owned enterprise workers have lost their jobs in the past two decades after privatization," Professor Chen said.

"Hundreds of millions of migrants have flooded into cities looking for work every year. That's why many workers still tolerate working in sweatshop factories even though their working conditions are getting worse every day."

For Chen, the solution does not lie in a simple law or in the revision of those in force. "Only when our country becomes a people-oriented society and more people can share the benefits of reforms and we have given up the old concept of 'development is the absolute principle' in our blind pursuit of economic growth, can we really talk about enforcement of labour laws." He added: "However I think we still have a long way to go."

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