China has a comprehensive legal framework that gives workers a range of entitlements and protects them from exploitation by their employer.
Job creation and higher living standards have long been key objectives for the Chinese government. However, millions of workers in traditional industries are being laid off and many of the new jobs being created are insecure and poorly paid. The legal framework established ten years ago to protect workers has largely failed to do so, to the extent that millions of workers cannot even be sure they will get paid on time.
The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China stresses that all citizens are equal and that ethnic minorities, people with religious beliefs, and women are not to be discriminated against in any aspect of civil life, including employment.
The two-week strike by around 40,000 workers at the Yue Yuen shoe factory in Dongguan in April 2014 was a watershed moment in Chinese labour relations. Not only was it the largest strike in recent history, it, crucially, highlighted the numerous problems endemic in China’s social security system.
There were an estimated 288 million rural migrant workers in China in 2018, making up more than one third of the entire working population. Migrant workers have been the engine of China’s spectacular economic growth over the last three decades but they remain marginalized and subject to institutionalized discrimination.
China is undeniably a safer place to work than it was a decade ago. However, accident rates, death tolls and the incidence of occupational disease are all still comparatively high, with 134 work-related accidents each day on average in 2018, according to official figures. New work hazards have emerged as the economy develops, and many employers continue to prioritise productivity and profit well above work safety.