The development of collective bargaining in China – two case studies

In November 2011, there was a significant upsurge in strikes and protests by workers across China. These well-organized collective protests showed not only the determination of workers to stand up for their rights and push for better pay and conditions, but also a willingness to resolve their complaints and grievances through face-to-face negotiations with managements.

Many of these disputes focused on the calculation of overtime payments and bonuses owed to workers, issues that gained increasing importance as the economic downturn ate into workers' pay-packets in the latter half of the year. In-depth accounts of two such disputes were published in the Chinese media at the time, and have been translated and edited here by China Labour Bulletin so as to give readers a detailed insight into how labour disputes are being resolved now and how the country's embryonic collective bargaining process is beginning to develop.

The dispute at the Citizen Watch factory in Shenzhen was resolved through formal collective bargaining between labour and management while the protest at a Tesco supermarket in the Zhejiang city of Jinhua, was eventually resolved after tripartite talks involving the local government, employees and the employer. Both disputes showed that while collective bargaining is still in its infancy in China, and participants from labour, management and the government still have much to learn about getting the best out of the negotiation process, nonetheless there are some very encouraging signs.

In many ways, the dispute at the Citizen Watch factory was a textbook example of how face-to-face negotiations between representatives of labour and management can resolve long-running disputes, ease tensions between workers and the bosses and help establish a system for the peaceful resolution of problems as and when they occur.

The Jinhua Tesco dispute was different in that the store was scheduled to close at the end of 2011, and the workers were looking for a fair redundancy package rather than improved pay and conditions. However the workers still had a clear list of demands and grievances and more than 20 representatives were willing to negotiate with management. The involvement of local government officials was a positive development, in many ways, because they took a largely neutral rather than pro-business stance. However, the officials lacked experience in such talks, as well as the resources to play a really effective role. As a result, when the store finally closed on 19 December, managers were still scrambling to calculate individual workers' overtime payments.

The Tesco study (浙江金华外资超市倒闭 员工不满补偿政策堵门拒扫货) was written primarily by a journalist from Zhejiang Online (浙江在线), with additional reports from other local newspapers, while the Citizen Watch account (深圳市沙井黄埔冠星精密表链厂劳资谈判) is a more detailed record of negotiations written by staff from the Laowei law firm in Shenzhen, which represented the workers in the collective bargaining sessions, and which was published on the firm's collective barraging website.

China Labour Bulletin's translations are available here as downloadable PDFs.

Collective Bargaining at the Shenzhen Citizen Watch Factory
Foreign supermarket in Jinhua county, Zhejiang, closes: Workers unhappy with compensation offer block doors and refuse to move merchandise
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