Strike action ushers in new era of work relations, says expert

08:16, June 03, 2010      

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The strike that crippled Honda's manufacturing operations in China for two weeks has ushered in a new phase of labor relations in the country, said Lee Chang-hee, a senior specialist on industrial relations and social dialogue for the International Labor Office.

The action staged by 1,900 staff at the Japanese automaker's joint venture, Guangqi Honda Automobile Co., in Foshan, Guangdong province, halted production since May 17 at four assembly plants.

Some workers agreed to return on Wednesday after being offered a pay rise of 366 yuan ($54) a month.

"Young workers are much more aware of how to use their rights to pursue higher wages and better working conditions," said Lee.

Before, workers took action only when their legal rights were violated, he explained, but the new generation of migrant workers has been emboldened by tight legislation, such as the Labor Contract Law, which offer more job security.

"Similar things have happened in many developed countries before," he explained. "In my motherland, South Korea, we have gone through the exact same process. It seems China is stepping into this phase."

Lee noted that strengthening workers' bargaining power while maintaining stability is a key challenge for the Chinese government, which has made closing the wealth gap at top priority.

"Other countries experiences show that collective bargaining is a good tool to address wage gaps in labor markets," he said, adding that the country may need to review its dispute settlement system.

He explained that blue-collar workers at a South Korean automaker first used collective bargaining in 1985. Then, few would have been able to afford to buy the cars they helped make. But after more than a decade of collective bargaining, their wages have risen dramatically.

"This happened in the United States in the 1940s and Japan in the 1960s, and it will eventually happen in China," said Lee.

To make it happen, he added, workers needed good representation and an effective mechanism for collective bargaining.

Source:China Daily


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