China's workers who are putting in long hours of unpaid overtime or being required to work through the coming week-long holiday are starting to wonder if their bosses have forgotten what May Day commemorates.
The holiday is in remembrance of the 1886 protests by 200,000 workers in Chicago, the United States who demanded better working conditions including an eight-hour working day.
Yet in China's urban areas, more and more workers are being required to put in extra hours whether they want to or not and then finding their pay docked if they miss a half day.
Zhu Mingqian, 25, is a typically stressed professional who puts in many extra hours. He is a certified public accountant working for a firm in Nanjing, capital city of the booming Jiangsu Province in east China.
He will be taking his laptop computer home with him to stay on top of his work load throughout the holiday week.
"Even with overtime, I can barely finish my assignments. Although my company has an eight-hour work day, it is never enforced," complained Zhu, who says he has to volunteer for the overtime which has become part of his daily routine.
The situation is worse for Shan Qiang, a 28-year-old rural migrant who is required to put in 10-hour days for a singing and dance troupe in the city of Tianjin in north China.
"We wish we could enjoy an eight-hour day but most of my colleagues never get to do so," Shan said.
According to a research report on China's migrant workers, which was released in mid April by the policy research institute under the State Council, migrant workers usually put in long hours at very labor intensive jobs. Most work for more than eight hours a day and many work more than 10 hours a day.
The group the researchers studied showed only 13.7 percent worked for no more than eight hours a day, 40.30 percent worked eight to nine hours, 23.48 percent put in nine to 10 hours a day and 22.50 percent worked more than 10 hours.
Experts attributed the phenomena to accelerated industrialization, rapid economic growth and mounting employment pressure.
According to the 36th article of China's Law of Labor, work time should not exceed 8 hours a day and 44 hours a week. If overtime is necessary, the employer must ask the trade union for its agreement and it must be on a volunteer basis and should not exceed three hours a day.
"Under the protection of the Law, many Chinese people can enjoy the eight-hour work day if they are unwilling to work extra hours," said Zhang Haitao, deputy head of the social security department of the general trade union of Jiangsu.
"However, some employers fail to abide by the Law, and some employees opt for overtime voluntarily."
The Beijing Bureau of Statistics said employed people in China's capital worked for 5.9 days, or 47.2 hours, a week on average. Most of the employees in labor-intensive businesses and the service trade worked for more than six days a week.
A well-known job-hunting Website, www.zhaopin.com, conducted an online survey of 15,000 people recently. The survey found that approximately 40 percent of the respondents worked extra hours voluntarily.
Volunteering for extra hours also conforms to Chinese traditional values on diligence and hard work.
However, these values which were first taught by Confucius thousands of years ago may be having a "negative effect" in China's fast-paced modern society, said Prof. Du Wendong, a psychologist with the Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
High pressure and extreme overtime are the culprits of bad-health, Du said.
The Chinese Medical Association recently conducted a random survey of 330,000 people in 33 cities. The findings show 70 percent of Chinese people complained of fatigue, insomnia and appetite disorders.
"Trading leisure for money can actually mean more losses," Professor Du said.
Dai Dengkai agrees that less may mean more in the long run. He is with a labor monitoring organization in Nanjing.
"The eight-hour work day was set in accordance with people's normal physical strength. It conducive for businesses to ensure workers' physical and mental health," said Dai.
Trade Unionist Zhang Haitao called for employers to set proper work and rest schedules and give their employees reasonable assignments.
Du Wendong suggested that laborers should keep a proper balance between work and rest, and that trade unions and labor monitoring organs should prompt employers to abide by the labor law.
(Xinhua News Agency May 1, 2006)