By Manfred Elfstrom, ILRF Program Officer
According to an article in Workers Daily, Shanghai is introducing a new “Guiding Opinion” to increase the power of “Staff and Workers’ Representative Congresses” (or simply “workers congresses”) in the city.
“Workers’ congresses” are similar to Western European “works councils” and, at least in principle, ensure representatives of ordinary workers a voice in enterprise decision-making. Precursors of today’s congresses were created as far back as 1949 and the system was revived during the early reform era (drawing on the example of socialist Yugoslavia—see Anita Chan and Zhu Xiaoyang’s 2005 article in Chinese Sociology and Anthropology).
Congresses have been given new importance by recent legislation. For example, Article 4 of the new Labor Contract Law stipulates:
Employers shall establish and perfect labor bylaws so
as to ensure that workers can enjoy labor rights and perform labor obligations.
Where employers constitute, modify or determine such bylaws or significant matters in direct relation to the real benefits of workers as the remuneration, working time, rest and vacation, work safety and health care, social insurance and welfare, job training, job discipline or quota management, the draft thereof shall be discussed at the workers' congress or by all the workers, which shall bring forward schemes and opinions. The aforesaid bylaws and significant matters shall be determined after equal consultation by employers and labor union or representatives of workers.
Nonetheless, like enterprise-level trade unions, workers congresses are far more prevalent in state-owned enterprises than private firms. And the government and All China Federation of Trade Unions seem to be focused on expanding the use contracts (of any sort), signing collective contracts (when possible) and deepening unionization—over establishing congresses, at least for now.
So, what does Shanghai’s new Guiding Opinion do? It lends more bite to the “democratic evaluations” (minzhu pingyi) currently carried out by the workers’ congresses in some enterprises. Specifically, if a manager in a given enterprise receives less than 60 percent support in a vote by secret ballot during such an “evaluation,” then the congress may recommend that he or she step down.
The article states that Shanghai presently has workers congresses in 7,479 state-owned enterprises, of which 6,088 or 81.4 percent are carrying out “democratic evaluations.”
It would be interesting to know whether this represents a national trend and, if so, whether managers have actually been pushed to resign by congresses anywhere else in China and, if so, for what reasons.
Leave a comment if you have any insights!