- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

Chinese officials are turning to the United States for help in strengthening their labor laws to conform with global principles.

The effort received a boost in mid-September when Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao played host to Tian Chengping, China’s minister of labor and social security, and other officials.

“It was an open dialogue between the two departments, focusing on labor laws,” said David James, a Labor Department official. “We try to help the Chinese with labor issues and work on internationally recognized principles.”

The Chinese government is “working to set up regulated, harmonious, orderly and stable labor relations, … a system of laws and regulations to safeguard the worker’s rights and interests with labor-relation adjustment mechanisms. This is taking shape,” Mr. Tian said in a speech the next day at the Brookings Institution.

Acknowledging that its huge population and weak economic foundations will put China under heavy employment pressure, Mr. Tian said that providing social security and safeguarding workers’ legitimate rights and interests remain priorities in China’s economic and social development.

He said the Chinese government seeks “re-employment of the laid-off and the jobless” and is making efforts to “build and improve a well-functioning public-employment service system.”

Mr. Tian said China has 36,000 job centers, 24,000 of which are run by local governments with supervision from the central government. In addition, more than 6,000 government-run labor and social security agencies have been set up in the urban areas.

The public-employment service system provides “timely and accurate labor-market information to the public, tailor-made services on job placement, occupational guidance to clients and one-stop business startup service,” he said.

The problem, Mr. Tian said, is that although the urban labor supply will remain at more than 24 million each year — because of the large number of young workers migrating to cities — only 11 million jobs will be available from economic growth and retirement.

“Thirteen million people will have no jobs,” he said.

To ease the situation, “China aims to build a social security system that is commensurate with its reality and economic development stage,” Mr. Tian said. “The coverage of social security will be extended to workers in the non-state economy, workers in flexible forms of employment and migrant workers.”

An agreement to cooperate on strengthening Chinese labor law was first signed in 2003 by Clark T. Randt, U.S. ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, on behalf of the labor secretary. Letters of understanding were signed during Mrs. Chao’s visit to China in June 2004.

That agreement was renewed during Mr. Tian’s recent visit to Washington.

Beijing is considering and reviewing the draft of its Labor Contact Law, said Mr. Tian, who was named minister last year.

“With the stepping up of the legislation, there will be more comprehensive legal grounds for the protection of workers’ rights and interests.

“The government of China is ready to conduct full-range international cooperation in the field of labor and social security, promote the development of labor and social security in the world and make active contribution to the elimination and reducing of poverty in the world,” he said.

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