experts on labour law and industrial relations, a debate between “the Southern and Northern Schools” of labour relations sharpened and heightened as the drafting process moved toward the third reading (Chinese laws should be passed after the third reading of the law).
This academic debate on the nature of Chinese labour law focuses on the basic question of whether Chinese labour standards are in effect too high. Proponents of this principle in the “Southern School” argue that Chinese labour markets are not yet fully developed; moreover, the government does not have the will or the capacity to implement standards that even currently (before the labour contract law) meet or surpass standards in the developed world. Proponents of this view argue that the Chinese government should focus on regulating minimum labour standards, on extending these standards more broadly to include migrant workers, temporary workers, and workers in the informal sectors, and finally on strictly and fairly enforcing these standards.
The “Southern School” generally is more in favour of market regulation of labour markets, less government intervention into firm operations, and the use of private contracts to regulate the employment relations of highly skilled workers who wield impressive bargaining power by virtue of their skills and education. Proponents of this school implicitly assume that more realistic standards will be easier to implement and enforce. Opponents in the Northern School object to these arguments on various grounds. Professor Chang Kai of Renmin University has argued publicly for the imposition of greater government control and intervention into labour-management relations, partly because of the “immature” nature of Chinese labour markets and worker organizations, including the trade union. Widespread violations of labour laws and abusive working conditions require that the Chinese government take a more direct role in firm-level labour policies. As is often noted...