Collective contract highlights problems of underpaid hospital workers in China

The Beijing Municipal Federation of Trade Unions will next year press for the unionization of the capital’s more than 30,000 hospital supply workers, and the establishment of collective contracts with labour supply companies.

The union federation announced last week that Beijing’s largest hospital labour supply company, Huijiafeng, had signed a collective labour contract with the district trade union, stipulating that, in 2011, the minimum wage for company employees would be 1,300 yuan per month or 55 yuan per day. The company also agreed to henceforth discuss wage levels with workers at the end of each year.

However, workers and managers pointed out, the minimum wage levels determined in the agreement only reflected the current market level. One hospital worker told the Beijing News that he had been earning 60 yuan a day for the last four years. “I get 1,500 yuan per month, how come it has changed to 1,300 yuan?” he asked. Under the agreement, highly experienced and skilled hospital workers would still only be guaranteed a wage 340 yuan a month higher than the statutory minimum wage in Beijing.

Moreover, the agreement apparently only covered basic wage levels and not key issues of work hours, social security and insurance coverage.

In addition, there are probably thousands of workers employed at Beijing’s hospitals on a casual basis as porters, kitchen staff, cleaners and security staff who would not be covered by collective agreements with labour supply companies.

The move by the Beijing union federation to establish collective wage agreements in the city’s hospital labour supply companies is to be welcomed. However for the system to be effective and beneficial to the employees, the workers themselves will have be involved in the bargaining process and the union will have to fight for much more than wage levels that have already been in place for four years.
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