A policy established decades ago in a bid to protect female workers is now being questioned by increasing numbers of Chinese women who want to keep their jobs longer.
Men retire five years later than women under the regulation. The retiring age for female staff is 50, and 55 for men. While women cadres leave their posts at 55, it's 60 for men of the same status. The intention of the policy was to protect women's health and lawful rights, said officials with the State Ministry of Personnel.
In the 1950s, Chinese women were burdened with heavy physical labor at both factory and home, and usually had more than two children to take care of. The earlier retiring age was considered at the time a thoughtful solution to help women.
However, more and more women now regard the policy as discriminatory.
"The earlier retiring age means fewer social welfare benefits and it's unfair for women," said Zhu Dan, women member of Chongqing Municipal Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress (CPPCC), the largest municipality in southwest China, and also a place famous for breeding outstanding women.
Early retirement could possibly make many women ineligible to receive favorable treatment from government policies, which usually require employees to have more than 30 years service, Zhu said.
She insisted that women were fully able to work longer than before due to improved working conditions and better health. China's one-child policy also made it possible for mothers to focus on their jobs.
Statistics show that the average life expectancy for Chinese women is 71 while 69 for men. In some well-off areas like Shanghai, the figure is nearly 80 for women.
"Physically, it's absolutely possible for women to work a few years longer," said Liu Qiurong, delegate to the National People's Congress (NPC) from Shenzhen, south China.
It was especially unfair for those with higher education who reach the pinnacle of their careers in their 50s through their individual efforts, but then soon face retirement, said Huang Rongsheng, Party secretary with the Southwest Normal University.
"The equality of men and women is guaranteed by the nation's Constitution, but men and women receive different treatment in terms of retirement," she said. Under the current Chinese education system, a woman is aged about 23 when she finishes undergraduate college study, and will spend approximately three years each for a master's degree and doctorate degree. A highly educated women probably works for fewer than 30 years if she has to retire at 55.
Early retirement was a kind of waste, said Wang Yuyu, CPPCC member from Guangdong, who strongly recommends men and women retire at the same age, arguing that in some courses women perform even better than men.
Sociologists cite the toughness of the current job market as one reason for women retiring early. In some badly-run factories and companies, women staff are required to leave their jobs at 45 and get an even lower pension.
Experts point out it's quite likely some people expect the withdrawal of women to mean more job opportunities for men.
Such authorities as the NPC and the All-China Women's Federation have urged relevant departments to protect women's benefits during social welfare reforms and the restructuring of individual companies.
"People now have a different viewpoint. Early retirement means less income and a waste of knowledge," said Yang Peiying, senior official with the Ministry of Personnel in charge of salary, welfare and retirement. In that sense, the early retirement policy was probably no longer favorable to women, the official said.
High-ranking officials said government departments would give full consideration to the retirement policy, which is a wide-ranging issue affecting such areas as personnel and social welfare systems among others.
(People’s Daily January 23, 2003)