PROTECTING LABOUR RIGHTS THROUGH THE COLLECTIVE CONTRACT

Introducing the CC2005 Programme

To assist and complement the aims of the corporate social accountability movement, China Labour Bulletin is promoting the use of collective employment contracts in the China-based supplier firms of multinational companies. Since the mid-1990s, the Chinese government and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) have consistently urged enterprises and workers to undertake collective bargaining with a view to signing collective employment contracts. To this end, the government has enacted the Regulations on Collective Contracts, the Trial Methods for Collective Consultation on Wages, and other applicable regulations. We believe that China's current social, economic, political and legal environment makes it both necessary and feasible for the collective contract system to be promoted and implemented in Chinese supplier firms today.

In promoting the project of "Protecting Chinese Workers' Rights through the Collective Contract – CC2005," we aim to achieve the following three goals:

o To mobilize workers to participate in collective bargaining, so that they can play an active role in protecting their own rights.

o To achieve real implementation of China's labour laws, trade union legislation and the relevant standards of the International Labour Organization.

o To provide a new and effective means by which multinational buyers can realize their commitment to the principle of social accountability.

While acknowledging the importance of codes of conduct and social accountability standards, we believe the collective contract has the following three advantages over them:

o Since the collective contract is legally enforceable, Chinese supplier firms are obliged to adhere to its provisions, and this gives multinational buyers a more effective guarantee that they can fulfil their social accountability goals.

o Being formulated on the basis both of Chinese law and of the specific circumstances of individual Chinese enterprises, the collective contract better reflects the wishes and aspirations of both workers and management in the supplier factories, and is therefore a more targeted and effective tool.

o Since the workers' own elected representatives participate in the design and drafting of the collective contract and directly supervise its implementation, the contract can be more readily and fully implemented.
 
From the corporate social accountability perspective, the collective contract system serves the following three functions:

o It converts the code of conduct from being a moral or ethical standard into a legal standard, and thus transforms the employer's moral responsibility into a legal obligation.
o It turns the code of conduct – a "foreign imported" standard – into a set of rules that is based on Chinese law and takes into account the specific circumstances of Chinese supplier firms.
o It changes the status of workers from that of observers or onlookers into being direct participants in, and supervisors of, the labour standards process.

There are three preconditions for effective implementation of the CC2005 standard:

o An attitude of sincerity and active cooperation on the multinational buyers' part.
o The collaboration of the Chinese supplier firms in providing the requisite time and space for the workers' involvement in the process.
o An arousal of the workers' awareness of their rights, and a willingness on their part to fully participate in the process.

Implementation of the CC2005 programme will help to foster and strengthen, among Chinese workers, three levels of awareness – greater awareness of labour rights, greater organizational awareness, and greater participatory awareness. By promoting the collective contract in Chinese supplier firms, moreover, we expect to see a "triple win" situation for all the parties concerned:

o Multinational buyers will enhance their social and ethical reputation and prestige.
o Chinese supplier firms will achieve a stable labour-relations situation in their factories.
o Chinese workers will secure a genuine protection of their basic rights and interests.

We are hopeful that the CC2005 programme will gain increasing recognition and support from all sectors of society, both in China and abroad, over the coming months and years.

15 December 2005

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