Jiang Junlu is one of China’s top labor law experts. A partner at King & Wood in Beijing, he advised the State Council on the drafting of the labor contract law, a significant piece of legislation that increases the burden of responsibility for employers. Under the new law, which came into effect on January 1, hiring and firing is more difficult and employees have greater license to take companies to court. He talked to CHINA ECONOMIC REVIEW about the new law, working with the State Council, and his early start as a journalist.
Q: How did you first get involved with labor law?
A: I started to get involved in 1988 when I was at Renmin University for my bachelor’s degree. I studied under professor Guan Huai, the father of labor law in China. It was very difficult for me to understand the complicated labor issues and this made me want to spend more time on it. After graduating, I entered the Ministry of Labor and Social Security as a reporter with China Labor News. I chose to be a reporter instead of an official because I thought a reporter’s job was very interesting. I could meet different kinds of people and get different opinions on the same issue.
Q: Why did you leave journalism?
A: Labor issues were so complicated at that time  but it was an official newspaper, so even though I gathered news from many different perspectives, it was difficult for me to write an article that way. Newspapers need an official voice, not diverse voices. So after two years at the newspaper, I resigned and set up my private law firm.
Q: How different was law from journalism?
A: Being a lawyer was a new job in China at that time. I read an article in the newspaper that said the government was encouraging the private sector to establish law firms. It was the first time private investment in this field was allowed. So I talked with my university classmates, my friends – they were working in the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, state-owned companies or official newspapers – and we established the firm in 1993.
Q: There are actually three new labor laws that come into effect this year. Can you talk about each of them?
A: Of the three laws, the most important is the labor contract law because it covers all issues, from the establishment of the labor contract to the termination of employment. This law will have impact on everybody and every employer in China.
Q: What about the employment promotion law, which is also effective January 1?
A: Discrimination is a very serious social problem in China. You find it everywhere. For example, any company can say, I would like to have a new employee who is male, under 35 and holds a Beijing hukou. So with the introduction of this law, every employer must be more cautious. Anybody who feels discriminated against by a recruitment advertisement can sue the company.
Q: And the labor disputes law, which takes effect on May 1?
A: The labor disputes, mediation and arbitration law solves some problems in settlements. For example, it shortens the period for settlement through an arbitration committee. Before, the arbitrator could finish the labor dispute in 60 days but now it is 45 days. Many employees have complained about this in the past. For example, if it’s a simple labor dispute that involves just RMB1,000 (US$140), the employee is forced to wait a long time for it to be settled.
Q: Implementation rules for the labor contract law are still being drafted?
A: After the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress passed this law, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security began to draft implementation rules. But some companies had very strong opinions on the law. They made many proposals to the State Council and so the State Council is still on the job.
Q: So the rules are not finalized?
A: No, they are not finalized. I know they have several drafts but none have been finalized. Nobody knows the deadline [for completion]. But the National People’s Congress is taking place on March 5 so I think the State Council will finish the rules before then.
Q: What was it like consulting the State Council on the draft laws?
A: I organized all the labor lawyers in China, from every province – that is about 200 labor lawyers representing different sides. I organized seminars and we received many practical proposals for this law. We collected these opinions and made a proposal to the State Council.
Q: Can you describe the drafting process?
A: The first draft was initiated by the labor ministry and submitted to the State Council. The State Council invited legal experts to join in and we made a proposal in which we said we thought this article was not good, and so on. The State Council revised the first draft and when the revised version came out we made some more comments. Then they finalized the draft and submitted it to the National People’s Congress after which it was published and opened up for public opinion.
Q: What do you think of the final version?
A: I think it balances the interests of both the employer and employee.
Q: What’s the next step in the evolution of labor laws in China?
A: Chinese trade unions are not playing a very important role within companies. I know they have done a lot for the employees, but at the enterprise level, unions have no power to negotiate with the management. They don’t know about collective bargaining, collective agreements. I think in the future, trade unions at the enterprise level will participate in the drafting of internal rules, engage in collective bargaining with the management and have collective agreements covering all the employment issues. The individual employees, if they have complaints, can then seek help from the trade union, not sue the company. The trade union can make an analysis – who is right, who is wrong – and disputes can be settled rationally.
Q: Why does China only have one trade union?
A: The law requires only one trade union in China. The reason is that, after 1949, trade unions were a great help to the Chinese Communist Party. Before 1949, China had many federations of trade unions. Then the All-China Federation of Trade Union was set up under the leadership of the Communist Party. After the establishment of New China, this practice continued. From the 1950s, trade unions acknowledged this practice. It’s history.