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Over foreign opposition, China passes law meant to protect workers

The Baltimore Sun

BEIJING -- China's legislature passed a sweeping new labor law yesterday that strengthens protections for workers across its booming economy, rejecting arguments from foreign investors that the measure would reduce China's appeal as a low-wage, business-friendly industrial base.

The new labor contract law, enacted by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, requires employers to provide written contracts to their workers, restricts the use of temporary laborers and makes it harder to lay off employees.

The law, which is to take effect in 2008, also enhances the role of the Communist Party's monopoly union and allows collective bargaining for wages and benefits. It softens some provisions that foreign companies said would hurt China's competitiveness but retains others that American multinationals had lobbied vigorously to exclude.

The law is the latest step by President Hu Jintao to increase worker protections in a society that, despite its nominal socialist ideology, has emphasized rapid capitalist-style economic growth over enforcing labor laws or ensuring an equitable distribution of wealth.

But it could fall short of improving working conditions for the tens of millions of low-wage workers who need the most help unless it is enforced more rigorously than existing laws, which already offer protections that on paper are similar to those in developed economies.

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