A Ministry of Labor and Social Security official was recently quoted as saying that excessive overtime is rife in many enterprises, a practice that infringes the labor law and constitutes a serious abuse of workers' rights.
His remarks came soon after the death of a 25-year-old engineer at Guangdong-based Huawei Technologies, allegedly as a result of excessive overtime.
Working overtime is strictly limited by the labor law, which stipulates that any overtime must be agreed by the trade union and that the total overtime should be no more than three hours a day or 36 hours a month.
But neither stipulation is fully respected in reality, according to the official.
Another report concerns Apple Computer Inc, which is reportedly investigating "poor labor conditions" at Foxconn, a Taiwanese factory that assembles Apple's iPod music player in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province.
The Shenzhen company was accused of paying its workers a pittance, housing them in crowded and heavily guarded dormitories and forcing them to work overtime.
While these claims have yet to be verified, there have been many previous reports regarding violations of workers' rights in this southern region, with many of the factories involved being contractors of famous international brands, such as Wal-Mart and Nike.
These reports point to something rotten that we do not usually link with those glamorous international trademarks.
Government regulators and trade unions should take more heed of these reports. They must carry out their duty to protect the interests of factory workers, as many of them find it difficult to get their voices heard.
As a latecomer to the global market economy framework, China has made unreserved efforts to catch up with developed countries. Its economy is growing at a remarkable pace, resulting in a substantial improvement in its people's living standards.
Meanwhile, many problems have been eclipsed by this ostensible prosperity, including ignorance of labor rights at some factories.
Those employers showing such a scant regard for workers' rights must be punished in accordance with the law, no matter what stealthy tactics they adopt to evade their responsibilities.
National and local regulators are in a position to take more active and effective measures in this regard.
Failure to find a solution to these problems will tarnish our fast-paced economic growth.
(China Daily June 20, 2006)