Bosses rail at one-sided consultation in rushed reform

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 March, 2008, 12:00am

Proper consultation with companies before the passing of the contentious labour contract law could have prevented the present tug-of-war over the new regulations, aggrieved bosses and experts say.

'The passing of the law was too rushed,' said Zhang Guoquan, Guangdong Sanyou Group chairman and a delegate to the National People's Congress. 'The voices of the corporations were not properly taken into account.'

He said that unlike the property law, where Beijing repeatedly sought opinions from stakeholders and smoothed out major conflicts before approving it, debates over the labour contract law showed no signs of abating.

'The property law was very controversial, too, but most people accepted it after it was passed,' Mr Zhang said. 'In comparison, [the labour law] is still very controversial despite being passed. There are specific clauses being disputed.'

Clauses compelling firms to sign open-ended contracts with workers should they complete two consecutive fixed-term contracts or eight years of service have been the main target of employers' anger. 'We feel pressured,' Mr Zhang said. 'We have to be calculating when signing contracts with employees, and there is this heavy feeling hanging over the relationship between the labourers and us. Better consultation with corporations could have made the law more readily acceptable.'

Liu Xiqian, another NPC delegate and chairman of Yuwang Group in Shandong province, said there had probably been some consultation with firms over the new law, but he had not been included in any talks.

'The intention of the law was skewed towards helping the weaker party [the workers] and the corporations' voice was feeble, even if it was heard,' Mr Liu said.

The central government argues it has listened to the community on the issue. According to the country's top legislating body, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the draft labour contract law received an unprecedented 190,000 opinions when it was published online and in newspapers. More than half of this feedback came from grassroots level.

Many consultation sessions had been held, targeting both workers and the corporate sector.

Gong Ke, the president of Tianjin University and also an NPC delegate, has called for broader public consultation in law-making but added this was not a problem in the case of the labour contract law.

'It is very difficult to consult all corporations. Even if it is possible, it is impossible to listen to everyone,' Professor Gong said. 'Broad consultation is a foundation to more democratic legislation, but laws can only ultimately reflect the views of the majority, not everyone.'

Li Shuguang, vice-president of the China University of Politics and Law, said whether consultation took place or not was not the issue.

'Yes, consultation has been carried out but when taking into consideration the different opinions, there was a slant towards the labourers,' Professor Li said. 'This has to do with the legislative purpose behind the law.'

The implementation details for the law have yet to be released and clarification of the more troubling terms could help clear the overhang over current labour relations.

The release of these details as soon as possible is one thing both labourers and companies agree on.