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Collective Labour Rights and Collective Labour Relations of China

On Thursday 11 January 2018, Xiang Li will defend her doctoral thesis: “Collective Labour Rights and Collective Labour Relations of China”. The defence will take place at 11:15 hrs at the Academy Building of Leiden University, Rapenburg 73. The supervisors are Professor Guus Heerma van Voss and Professor Barend Barentsen.

Xiang Li.
Xiang Li

Labour rights are always a concern for persons who earn their living by doing psychical or mental work. Such rights are either authorized by labour law or created during collective bargaining. Collective labour rights, comprising of the freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively and the right to strike, function as a platform for representatives from workers and employers to negotiate working conditions and terms of employment. Labour law shall perform the roles of regulating labour relations, protecting labour rights and resolving disputes relating to labour, both individually and collectively.

Following a wave of strikes in the summer of 2010, labour relations in China have attained a more collective character. The increasingly numerous collective actions by workers in China, however, indicate the failures of existing law in fulfilling these roles effectively. The thesis explores how to regulate the emerging collective labour relations in China, which is also the central question of the thesis, by adopting the methodologies of legal text analysis, literature analysis, comparative study, data analysis and case study. Two sub-topics are involved in exploring such a question: the flaws in the present law and current challenges relating to collective labour relations, given that practical suggestions for regulatory reform must be founded on a complete understanding of the two sub-topics.

The existing Chinese legal regime focuses on individual labour rights, while the legislation governing collective labour relations suffers from being both insufficiently detailed and heavily influenced by notions that originated in the planned economy. The attitudes of legislators regarding the freedom of association are inherently paradoxical; workers’ participation in collective bargaining is not guaranteed by law; and there is a lack of clear protection for the right to strike. In practice, workplace trade unions in China are generally inactive in representing workers owing to their dependence on management and bureaucratic inertia, so that there is often a lack of authentic negotiating during collective bargaining.

The International Labour Organisation has provided several conventions for its members to observe when regulating collective labour relations. It is argued that the freedom of association, shaped in developed capitalist countries characterised by multi-party political regimes and spontaneous market economies, however, is incompatible with the Chinese political environment. Any effective reform of Chinese law must instead begin by taking into account the ideology that underlies the proposed legislation. With the aim to achieve long-term social stability and industrial balance in China, this thesis presents alternative suggestions, including guaranteeing workplace democracy in official representative agencies (i.e. trade unions), protecting workers’ participation in collective bargaining and regulating workers’ collective actions.

Professor Guus Heerma van Voss on Xiang Li

"Xiang Li was able to write her doctoral thesis in the Netherlands thanks to a scholarship from the Chinese Scholarship Council. She has written a commendable book on Chinese collective labour law. China does not meet international standards on trade union rights. Ms Li has managed to outline the changing situation in which opportunities are sought to assert the rights of employees in China in a more effective manner. In addition she puts forward creative proposals to do so with due observance what is possible from a political point of view. I believe that she has done very well to produce an academic piece of work within four years that clarifies the developments in this area to Western readers and makes clear within which framework solutions can be sought for existing problems."

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