Edited by Ray Yep, June Wang and Thomas Johnson
Chapter 19: Seeking solutions: how local governments handle collective labour disputes
Xuehui Yang and Feng Chen
China has witnessed a surge of labour unrest in recent years, driven by workers’ rising expectations for wages and labour rights. In response to the increase in labour militancy, the Chinese government has stepped up efforts to promote both institutional and non-institutional arrangements to handle collective labour disputes. This chapter examines different patterns of government’s response to collective labour conflicts, as well as their institutional roots and mechanisms in the context of China’s rapid urbanization. It argues that, although the Chinese government has established a formal dispute resolution system and actively promotes collective consultations, the mobilization of migrant workers has outpaced these institutions’ ability to manage it; hence, local governments have to take a more interventionist stance in dispute resolution. This hands-on approach mainly involves two mechanisms: repression and mediation. These both involve a variety of specific tactics, such as intra-government coordination, intimidating activists, and buying off disputants whenever possible, for the sake of quick resolutions. Collective bargaining between employers and workers is also allowed, when workers’ collective power is strong or local governments find no better alternatives.
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