Papiere einer Tagung der Friedrich Ebert Stiftung vom April 2011

International Workshop “The Strike Wave and Emergence of Collective Bargaining Mechanisms: the South China Experience” Guangzhou, April 10-12, 2011, by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung

What is the relationship between collective bargaining and strikes? Can efficient bargaining take place with unions being able to use the weapon of strikes as a potential thread? Does China have an implicit right to strike in §27 of the trade union law or is there need to regulate strikes with a new law? These and other questions were hotly debated during a workshop on “The Strike Wave and Emergence of Collective Bargaining Mechanisms: the South China Experience”, held at the Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. The workshop was jointly organised by the School of Government at the Sun Yat-sen University, the UC Berkeley Labor Center and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Shanghai Office.

Participants came from Mainland China, Hong Kong, Germany, the USA and Australia and included industrial relations experts from universities and research facilities, as well as practitioners and representatives from trade unions.

The majority of participants shared the view that the strike wave of 2010 should be seen as a wake-up call for unions in China to intensify their efforts in engaging in effective bargaining. Guangdong unions in particular are in the forefront of new approaches to collective bargaining. Enterprise unions have been largely by-passed in labour disputes, district and provincial unions played a part in concluding bargaining agreements. Looking ahead, most participants shared the view that legitimacy of unions is built on direct elections. If elections are not held to connect unions and workers at company level, recurrence of strikes like those in 2010 is likely. The Guangdong legislation initiative as well as the Shenzhen legislative initiative was seen as being strongly influenced by business interests from Hong Kong.

The participation of experts and practitioners from Germany and USA was important for the dynamics of the workshop, as they threw issues and experiences from different industrial relations background into the debates. While no country can or should copy 1:1 from other countries and while experiences should always be viewed in its context, comparative analysis is meaningful to look at issues from new points of emphasis. The experience from Vietnam was mentioned time and again where a strike law promulgated in 1996 has not reduced the number of strikes but made them all illegal. Not enough time was found for a deep discussion on elections and election procedures. German unionism is based on membership, US unionism on elections at company level. Elections can promote collective bargaining but become the opposite as well and be a hindrance. It depends on how the empowerment of unions and workers is applied.

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