Focus on property, labour rights
Experts hailed 2007 as a fruitful year for the mainland in the progress of legislation, with the introduction of a string of landmark laws aimed at protecting the basic property and labour rights of individuals.
Strengthening legislation which addresses social concerns and fine-tuning legislation in the commercial sphere have been the aims of legislators this year, which kicked off in March with the fifth and final plenary session of the 10th National People's Congress.
The mainland will have about 230 laws coming into effect tomorrow, and they range from a heavyweight Corporate Income Tax Law and a Labour Contract Law, to a new law addressing unruly urban planning and a new regulation shortening the week-long Labour Day public holiday and adding three other observances during the year.
Of all the laws passed this year, the Corporate Income Tax Law and the Anti-Monopoly Law are seen as topping the list of those with foreign interest.
The former, taking effect tomorrow, unified the foreign and local corporate tax rates at 25 per cent, effectively ending preferential treatment for foreign interests.
The latter, known as the 'constitution in commercial law' which will take effect from August, took 13 years to draft as the country makes its transition to a free-market economy. It aims to create a level playing field for all. It will also reinforce a requirement to screen foreign acquisitions on national security grounds.
The Property Law, which passed with no less controversy as it went through a record seven readings and spurred debate on the foundations of socialism ideology, enshrined the protection of private ownership when it finally came into effect in October.
The law also prohibits cheap sell-offs of state property and acquisitions of contracted rural land, in the hope of curbing illegal windfalls through the restructuring of state-owned enterprises and the undervalued purchase of farmland for property development.
The trilogy of the Labour Contract Law, the Employment Promotion Law and the Labour Dispute Settlement Law, passed just last week, tilted a previously business-oriented legislative trend towards enhanced protection of workers' rights, the prohibition of employment discrimination and giving workers better access to labour dispute resolution.
The two laws on energy conservation and urban and rural planning might help alleviate problems caused by the mainland's breakneck economic growth by including energy conservation efforts as part of an official's performance assessment and imposing stricter penalties on the defiance of urban plans to prevent illegal reclamation and demolition, or 'image-building' construction at the expense of the environment and heritage protection.
Approved amendments to the Lawyers' Law and the Civil Procedure Law aimed to strengthen the much-criticised judicial system by spelling out for the first time fundamental lawyers' rights - such as the right to meet an arrested person, to have access to prosecution documents and to be immune from criminal prosecution for submissions made in court - and making retrials more petitioner-friendly and enforcement more foolproof.
Revision of the individual income tax law last week raised the monthly individual income tax threshold from 1,600 yuan to 2,000 yuan.
Peking University law professor Zhan Zhongle said new additions to the legal code since the 16th National Congress of the Communist Party had placed more emphasis on livelihood issues, culminating in the labour rights trilogy.
Hong Kong-based law expert Ong Yew-kim said the mainland had made good progress in the passing of both public and private laws this year, but the government's target of completing a legal framework for a 'socialist harmonious society' during the party congress might have to wait another 10 years.
'The existence of laws does not equate to rule of law,' Mr Ong said. 'The laws we have now only establish the principle. True implementation still requires details to be introduced over years, and also the strict enforcement of these laws.'
Both experts called the Social Insurance Law next year's legislative highlight. The draft law was tabled for its first reading at last week's NPC Standing Committee meeting, and it will make the purchase of pension, medical, unemployment, workrelated injury and childbirth insurance compulsory for employers.
'This law will touch on every urban family and will be the most important law for the people,' Professor Zhan said.
Other laws likely to be passed next year include the Food Safety Law, the Correction of Illegal Behaviour Law and amendments to both the Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure Law.
The Correction of Illegal Behaviour Law, which will touch on the abolition of the reform-through-labour system, and the other two amendments have been scheduled for the current legislative calendar but so far have not yet been discussed. Only one more legislative session remains before the new NPC begins its annual national conference in March.
Major laws taking effect tomorrow:
Corporate Income Tax Law
Labour Contract Law
Urban and Rural Planning Law
Other major laws passed or amended this year:
Employment Promotion Law
Labour Dispute Settlement Law
Minors Protection Law
Energy Conservation Law (amended)
Lawyers' Law (amended)
Civil Procedure Law (amended)