Measuring Progress Under China's Labor Law: Goals, Processes, Outcomes

22 Pages Posted: 4 Nov 2008

See all articles by Hilary K. Josephs

Hilary K. Josephs

Syracuse University - College of Law


In 2007 the PRC legislature approved a three-part package of statutes intended to improve on, and fill gaps left by, the Labor Law of 1994, which itself was the first major labor-related statute of the post-reform period. This article will focus on the first of the three laws to be passed, and the most significant, the Employment Contract Law (ECL). The ECL clearly demonstrates maturation of the legislative process, especially with respect to representation of various interest groups and an effort to gather input from a wide range of perspectives. The ECL further exemplifies the influence of prior law-making by the courts and by administrative agencies, in essence, codifying earlier subsidiary forms of law. In terms of responding to egregious workplace abuses, the ECL corrects in some ways for the inherent imbalance of economic power between employers and employees. However, the ECL does not provide a legal basis for the establishment of unions or quasi-unions independent of the control of the Chinese Communist Party. In that sense, the ECL still does not constitute that crucial breakthrough which international labor rights activists have eagerly awaited. The spread of "decent working conditions" in China will continue to depend on an overall improvement in living standards and the government's willingness to prioritize equity concerns ahead of growth.

Suggested Citation

Josephs, Hilary K., Measuring Progress Under China's Labor Law: Goals, Processes, Outcomes. Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal, Vol. 30, No. 2, 2009, Available at SSRN:

Hilary K. Josephs (Contact Author)

Syracuse University - College of Law ( email )

Syracuse, NY 13244-1030
United States
315-443-9573 (Phone)
315-443-4141 (Fax)

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