China Enacts Labor Relations Law, Effective in 2008

China's Standing Committee of the National People's Congress -- the country's legislature -- enacted a major labor relations and worker safety law June 29, The New York Times reported on its Web site. The law, which will take effect in 2008, allows collective bargaining over wages and benefits, will require Chinese employers to issue written contracts to their workers, restricts the use of temporary laborers, and makes it harder to lay off employees, the newspaper reported.

The newspaper's online report said the legislature ignored "pleas from foreign investors who argued the measure would reduce China's appeal as a low-wage, business-friendly investment designation." And while the law is part of President Hu Jintao's attempt to increase worker protection during an economic boom in his vast country, the law "may fall short of improving working conditions for the tens of millions of low-wage workers who need the most help unless it is enforced more rigorously than existing laws, which already offer protections that on paper are similar to those in developed economies," according to the newspaper.

China has been closing small mines and investigating slave labor in the coal mining sector recently, according to U.S. experts and the newspaper's report, which said the law "moves China closer to European-style labor regulations that emphasize fixed- and long-term employee contracts enforceable by law. It makes it more difficult for companies to keep employees working on temporary contracts indefinitely, requiring that they become full-time employees with lifetime benefits after a short-term contract is renewed twice."

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