Minister says no to setting up free labour unions

Chris Yeung

LABOUR Minister Li Borong has ruled out the possibility of the setting up of the Solidarity-type free trade union in the country.

This is in spite of the imminent completion of the drafting of the long-awaited Labour Law which is aimed at giving greater protection to workers' rights.

Speaking yesterday at an NPC meeting, Mr Li said they hoped the Labour Law would be ready by the middle of the year.

''This will have a major impact on [the development of labour matters in] China.'' More than 30 drafts of the legislation have been compiled by the ministry and other relevant authorities.

Mr Li said they had also sought the views of some foreign investors over certain provisions in the draft law.

China has stepped up the drafting of laws on the protection of workers' rights in the wake of more complaints from workers against their employers, last year.

The Beijing leadership was made aware of the urgent need to increase legal protection for the well-being of workers following a spate of serious industrial accidents including a factory fire in Shenzhen last year.

Under a new regulation promulgated this year, joint ventures will also have to limit the weekly labour time of workers to less than 44 hours.

Mr Li said some joint venture enterprises had used the excuse of heavy work orders to postpone the implementation of the new work-hour requirement.

Although the new rules came into effect on March 1, he said there would be a grace period of two months.

''But if there are still cases of violations after that we will handle the matter in accordance with the law.'' The minister, however, played down the seriousness of the growing unrest among workers during the past year, which was largely sparked off by the deferred payment of workers' wages.

''Some of them might have difficulty in paying the salaries of workers. The Government has already taken measures to solve the problem.

''I don't think there will be strikes. If workers have something to say they can have dialogue [with the leadership] to seek a solution,'' Mr Li said.

''But I don't think it will be possible to have independent trade unions, such as the Solidarity, in China.''