In order to build a Harmonious Society, Chinese government is trying to secure its low-income earners' revenue and benefits. In this regard China has a lot to learn from America. So Yong Tang, People's Daily Washington-based correspondent, recently conducted an interview with a spokesperson from the Office of Public Affairs of the US Department of Labor (DOL).
Yong Tang: What role does the US DOL play in securing low-income earners' revenue and benefits? What has the DOL accomplished to secure these benefits so far?
Spokesperson: The mission of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is to promote the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions, advancing their opportunities for profitable employment, protecting their retirement and health care benefits, helping employers find workers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in employment, prices, and other national economic measurements.
The U.S. Department of Labor works to enforce worker protection laws and provide innovative programs to increase the competitiveness of our nation's workforce. For example,
- The Department's Employment Standards Administration (ESA) administers and enforces a variety of laws designed to enhance the welfare and protect the rights of American workers.
- The ESA Wage and Hour Division is responsible for the administration and enforcement of a wide range of worker protection laws that collectively cover virtually all private sector workers, as well as state and local government employees.
- The Employee Benefits Security Administration protects the integrity of pensions, health plans, and other employee benefits for more than 150 million workers.
- The Department of Labor's Unemployment Insurance (UI) programs provide unemployment benefits to eligible workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own, and helps unemployed workers return to work promptly.
Yong Tang: Does the US DOL think it is important to secure low-income earners' revenue and benefits? Besides the humanitarian reason, what will it contribute to society?
Spokesperson: U.S. DOL believes that the best conditions for bolstering economic security involve an open economy that provides the greatest economic opportunities for job seekers, workers, and the investors who take risks to create jobs and wealth.
Most benefits received by workers are the result of voluntary agreement between employers and employees, rather than government mandate. Benefits such as paid leave, paid holidays, health insurance, life insurance and production bonus pay are not mandated by the government, but are the result of market forces. America's healthy and resilient economy, characterized by low unemployment and expanding job opportunities creates a labor market environment that is favorable to workers, and employers offer both high wages and generous benefits in order to attract and retain workers in this tight labor market environment.
Some recent media reports have highlighted the fact that there is no Federal mandate for paid sick leave in the U.S., unlike the regulatory framework in some other countries. It is notable, however, that the forces of competition among employers to attract and retain workers in America's growing and dynamic labor market have resulted in 93% of full-time workers receiving a paid leave benefit that could be used to cover needs associated with sickness. These paid leave benefits are sometimes designated as "sick" leave, but in other cases the available paid leave is called by other names �C including personal leave, discretionary leave, or vacation.
Yong Tang: Does the U.S. DOL and China's Ministry of Labor and Social Security work together to solve these issues?
Spokesperson: The current topics of U.S.-China labor cooperation include the enforcement of wage and hour laws, administration of pension programs, mine safety and health and occupational safety and health. The cooperation does not specifically address the lack of certain employment benefits among American workers but focuses on effective methods to improve the compliance with core labor standards and to enhance the enforcement of respective labor laws in China and in the United States. Cooperative activities and bilateral exchanges are not designed to alter existing or establish new labor laws in order to provide maternity and sick leave benefits to workers in either country.
Yong Tang: The U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have passed a bill to raise the minimum wage for American workers from $5.15/hour to $7.25/hour. What is the reason for the minimum wage raised to $7.25/hour? Do you think this bill will eventually become law? What role did the U.S. DOL play in the process of setting as well as increasing the minimum wage?
Spokesperson: The U.S. Department of Labor closely monitors income and wage data for American workers. The Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides monthly data on workers' earnings, as well as additional, broader measures of compensation and income. In late February 2007, the BLS published a study entitled "Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers: 2006." Such studies and data collection efforts provide important information for legislators as they consider legislative alternatives related to the minimum wage.
The Administration supports Senate legislation that increases the minimum wage by $2.10 over two years and addresses the needs of small businesses. Such an approach will help maintain a strong and flexible labor market, assisting both workers and small businesses.
Yong Tang: What do you think of the current salary level of the American workers? Does the U.S. DOL conduct research regularly on income levels? Does this research have any effect on policy?
Spokesperson: Recent data reveals that real after-tax income per person has risen by 10.0 percent (an average of more than $2,900) since the President took office in 2001.
Real hourly earnings for private production and non-supervisory workers are up by 3.7 percent since January 2001. That's more than $2,100 of new purchasing power for the typical family of four with two wage earners. (END)
By Yong Tang, People's Daily Washington-based correspondent