About the Development of Labour NGOs – Letter to the Provincial Government of Guangdong and the Municipal Government of Shenzhen
9th September, 2012
Since February, over a dozen of labour NGOs in Shenzhen, including Shenzhen Chunfeng Labour Disputes Services Center, Shenzhen Yuan Dian Labour Service Center, Dagongzhe Migrant Workers’ Center (Shenzhen), Worker Online (also known as QingCao), Shi-Dai-Nu-Gong, Hand-in-Hand Migrant Workers’ Center, Little Grass Workers’ Home, have been suffering from inquisitions of multiple authorities, such as the Administration of Industry and Commerce, the Administration of Taxation, the Administration of Work Safety, the Fire Department, the Administration of Social Security, the Administration of Housing, the Administration of Labour Supervision, etc. Besides these inquisitions, the landlords of the labour NGOs’ offices have terminated tenancy contracts before the expiry or threatened the NGOS to move away, using all sorts of uncanny excuses and force in some instances. Regarding the harassment simply as rental disputes, the police took no action to stop it nor facilitated the NGOs for any legal procedure. Instead, the staff of some NGOs was even dispersed by the police when petitioning to the Municipal Party Committee. In all these years, these NGOs have been working very hard to provide work safety training, consultation services, cultural and art programs, as well as other legal and social services to workers. These services and the regular operation of the NGOs have been paralyzed by now. Up to now, great concern and support has been shown to what has happened to these labour NGOs.
We are a group of academics from the field of social sciences. We believe that the current situation is far from normal. We would like to express our concern and opinions to the provincial and municipal government in the below.
1. In July, 2011, the ‘Decision of the CCPC and People’s Government of Guangdong on Strengthening Social Construction’ (the Decision) was passed in the Ninth Plenary of the 10th CPC Committee of Guangdong Province. It was followed by the account given by Comrade Zhu Mingguo which elaborates the relationship between economic construction and civil society building, the urgency of civil society development and reform, as well as the importance of nurturing social organizations. The public reacted positively, acknowledging the significant exploration in civil society administration and development in Guangdong. Under the spirit of the Decision, constructive relations and collaborations have begun between the municipal trade union federation of Guangzhou and some of the labour NGOs. This is however baffled by what happened in Shenzhen recently which is, in our opinion, a turning back on the the Decision. If the NGOs have violated the law, they deserve rectification. Yet, irregular administrative intervention was taken without a sound reason and a legal ground. Is it what we should expect from the provincial and municipal government? The practices of the local government of Shenzhen, taken in the eve of the change of the leadership of the 18th CPC Central Committee, are damaging the harmonious labour relation and image of the government.
2. The emergence of labour NGOs, (including labour rights organizations), is inevitable in history. It is the freedom to associate as promised in the constitution. Regardless of the government’s position, labour NGOs would flourish and grow since there is a huge gap between the pressing needs of the working mass predominated by the new generation of migrant workers, and the services provided by the current trade unions. And as long as the power between the employers and employees is imbalanced, labour disputes become severer day after day. As for the government, the wise choice to make is to take the opportunity, administer the labour NGOs by law and promote their development for the mutual benefits of employees, employers and the society. This has been demonstrated in the experiences of many developed countries.
3. The emergence and development of labour NGOs is a leap in history as they shoulder enormous social responsibility which is beyond the capacity of government to take, such as resolving labour conflicts and providing needed services to workers. Based in the civil society, the public-interest oriented, non-profiting making and grass-root nature of the labour NGOs provide them with unique advantage over the government and the administrative-driven trade unions. The labour NGOs have also demonstrated their unique function in relieving social pressure and lessening social conflicts. If labour NGOs have a chance to take part in public management effectively, the needs of workers would be expressed more effectively, the communication and negotiation amongst different strata of the society would be more comprehensive. Through active engagement with the NGOs, the reforms of the trade union such as separation from the administration, democratization and consolidation of the mass base of the trade union could also be speeded up, leading to its transformation to becoming the genuine representative and defender of workers’ interests.
4. The lack of labour organization in a society always brings disastrous aftermath. The mass incidents broken out amongst the migrant workers in Zhengchen and Guxiang in Guangdong province demonstrate that the new generation of migrant workers’ expectation on public services is getting more and more vigorous. Without labour NGOs acting between the government and the disadvantaged, it is hard for the government to find the target and channel to begin any rational negotiation in the middle of a labour dispute or a strike. Between the government and the un-organised people, more channels viewed as un-biased should be found in order to maintain social stability. Indeed greater frustration would be provoked if the government only knows to rely on the state machine to maintain stability. The rational people are able to organize and manage themselves. On the other hand, dis-organised people are vulnerable to tides and using violence as they do not have the means to protect their genuine interests. The result is damaging to the social structure.
5. The legitimacy of labour NGOs should not be solely determined by the government and the trade union. Nor should they treat the NGOs based on the ‘contact, utilize and convert’ principle with the intention of using, promoting and offering protection to some favoured organizations, and remodeling, suppressing, banning the dis-favoured ones. The benchmark of judgment on NGOs should be genuine protection of the rights of workers, the support of workers for the organisation, the promotion of mutual benefits and harmonious labour relation. The government and the trade union may have their stance. This should better be taken under a framework of laws on labour NGO regulation adopted by the National People’s Congress after thorough discussion amongst the government, the employers, employees and the society. A legal framework as such shall be the basis of future government regulation on the NGOs.
6. Currently, the most pressing task is to enforce the Decision by means of ministerial regulations on particular areas of social administration. This shall provide the legal basis and fundamental support to the development of social organizations in Guangdong province. We hereby make two recommendations.
(1) The un-reasonable harassment on labour NGOs taken by the local government departments and authorities should be stopped immediately. The operation, offices and facilities of those labour NGOs which were forced to close down or move out from their locations should be resumed.
(2) A platform which includes the participation of the government, the trade union, the employers, workers, the labour NGOs, the academics and representatives of different strata of the society should be created to discuss about the appropriate regulation on labour NGOs. Based on the discussion, the National People’s Congress of the Shenzhen municipality and the Guangdong province should proceed to stipulate laws accordingly that cover labour NGO establishment and registration, the rights and duties, the content, scope and modes of NGOs’ activities, as well as the legal responsibility etc. This should offer all the involved parties with the legal ground to follow and to rectify abuses in order to reform the social administration in Guangdong province by law and develop social organizations.
The reform in Guangdong and Shenzhen has earned the government reputation, credibility and legitimacy. At the crossroad between expansion of government or promotion of the society, the Decision endorsed by the top authority of Guangdong province has already given us the answer. However, the all-round administrative role has stereotyped the local government departments, implanting them with defensiveness, making them believe that administration over the society must be secured in the hands of the government. Such mentality has led them astray from the reality. Indeed, the separation of our people from the units and the land has yielded much to be taken care of in the society. The vast blankness could be filled only if the government delegates power to social organizations. The more effective the social organizations are, the less the government has to do in releasing the social pressure. The challenge ahead lies in the genuine enforcement of the spirit of Decision amongst the local government departments. They should walk away from the administration-dependent model and concede more space to the social organizations. Only by speeding up the reform of social administration and development of social organization, establishing a legal, policy and support system could we truly stimulate the strength for sustainable development of the society.
Chen Min (Xiao Shu), Current Affairs and Politics Commentator, Member of the Editorial Board of Yan Huang Chun Qiu
Yuan Yang, Economist
Zhang Lifan, Historian
Ye Kangzheng, poet, cultural study scholar
Shen Yuan, Sociologist, Professor of Tsinghua University
Guo Yuhua, Sociologist, Professor of Tsinghua University
Lu Huilin, Sociologist, Associate Professor of Beijing University
Pun Ngai, Deputy Director of Research Centre for Social Work, Beijing University, Professor of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Sociologist
Duan Yi, Director of Shenzhen Laowei Law Firm, professes in labour law
Chang Kai, Professor of Renmin University of China, professes in labour law
Wang Keqin, news reporter
Wang Junxiu, independent scholar
Wang Changcheng, Professor of Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, Scholar of labour and social securities, professes in labour relations
Chan Kin-man, Director of Centre for Civil Society Studies; Associate Professor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Sociologist
Liu Jianfeng, Reporter
Teng Biao, Lecturer of China University of Political Science and Law, Legal Scholar
Xiao Xuehui, professes in Ethics
Feng Xiliang, Professor of Capital University of Economics and Business, professes in labour sociology
Wang Jiangsong (the author of the letter), Professor of China Institute of Industrial Relations, professes in labour theory and labour culture
(Listed according to the order of signing this letter)