Edited by Ljiljana Biukovic and Pitman B. Potter
Chapter 11: Structuring China’s engagement with international human rights: the case of wage protection law and practice
The relationship between international trade and human rights and its local implementation is nowhere more apparent than in the area of labour. Decent work is core to human development and the subject of numerous international conventions. This chapter examines international rules and their relationship to labour rights in China with a particular focus on the protection of wages, which is the core right of workers to be paid for their work. While Chinese law makes a clear provision that a person must be paid for their work, in many sectors non- or delayed payment of wages remains a systemic and severe problem. This chapter on China’s wage protection law and practice and its relationship to international conventions seeks to move beyond approaches that evaluate domestic law against the international norm, or domestic practice against the international norm. It argues that a proper appreciation of local performance requires careful analysis of a range of interlinked factors. First, an examination of both the substantive law and the institutional structures that shape (and limit) enforcement of the law is necessary. Next, in the Chinese case, the yawning gap between law and practice itself becomes a feature of local performance that requires examination and explanation. Additionally, the ready resort to administrative and extra-legal mechanisms both to address weaknesses in enforcement and to resolve socially disruptive protests arising from wage insecurity must also be seen as a regular feature of governance, and as ultimately undermining the legitimacy of legal rules and remedies. This chapter argues that these factors together comprise the domestic regulatory environment which constitutes local performance. It is against this regulatory environment that possibilities for increasing conformity with international norms must be judged.
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