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US firms want more clarity on labor law
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US firms in Guangzhou need more clarity on the Labor Contract Law to ease its implementation, the local chamber of commerce said yesterday at a press conference.

"We hope the Chinese government will attach importance to our concerns and improve the law," Harley Seyedin, president of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) South China, said.

The organization has more than 800 corporate and individual members and represents about 700 US companies in the region.

Clarification is needed on a number of issues, including protection against discrimination and wage talks between employers and employees' representatives, Seyedin said.

The new law makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of them being migrant workers or sufferers of diseases such as hepatitis B and HIV.

Discrimination on the basis of age, however, is not covered by the law.

Several key points, such as how cases of unlawful discrimination should be handled, are missing from the new law, Seyedin said.

As a result, people who feel they have been discriminated against will have great difficultly trying to claim compensation, he said.

Ma Xiaoyan, a lawyer in Guangdong, told China Daily: "Many laborers are simply refused employment, which leaves them with no way of proving unlawful discrimination and excludes them from the protection of the new law."

Under the law, prior to the introduction of any new working practice or rule that directly impacts on workers, employers must consult with a union or employee representative.

But it is unclear in the law how these representatives are selected, Seyedin said.

This is a problem faced by many companies that do not have a union, he said.

Hu Juan, who works at a privately owned factory in Guangzhou, said: "I'm never sure if our workers' representative really looks after our interests, as I don't even know how he was elected."

Many private companies do not have a union. Employers simply appoint a representative for the workers, but the position is symbolic and has little real function, Ma said.

However, it is unlikely the law will be amended or improved in the near future, she said.

Also, as the law has led to significant cost increases for most employers, a number of foreign firms have decided to withdraw from the Chinese market altogether, Ma said.

Several firms have complained about the new condition that states they must offer open-ended contracts to all workers who have been employed for 10 years or more.

(China Daily May 8, 2008)

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