Tackling employment discrimination in China

Discrimination in the workplace is endemic and widely tolerated in China. Legal protection for workers has improved over the last decade but for both job seekers and existing employees, discrimination based on gender, age, health and social status etc. is still a day-to-day reality and a major impediment to employment equality.

A new study, published today by China Labour Bulletin (CLB), outlines the main forms of employment discrimination prevalent in China today, examines the current legal protections available to workers and discusses the legal and policy reforms that are still needed to adequately protect workers from employment discrimination.

It reveals that:

  • Women are discriminated against even before they enter the workforce, face obstacles finding employment in male-dominated positions, and often endure sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • Factories openly state they will not hire anyone over 30-years-old, while many professional and civil service positions also have strict age requirements.
  • Migrant workers face widespread discrimination based on their household registration.
  • The more than 120 million people in China living with the Hepatitis B virus (HBV) have suffered widespread discrimination in the workplace but are increasingly fighting back through the use of anti-discrimination lawsuits.
  • People with disabilities have shockingly low levels of employment.
  • Despite some "positive discrimination" measures introduced by the Chinese government, ethnic minorities and those with religious beliefs still face major obstacles in the job market.

The study notes that while the Chinese government has sought to remedy some of the most blatant forms of discrimination through the implementation of the Employment Promotion Law in 2008, the law has thus far had a muted impact on the ground. The law has allowed certain groups, such as those with HBV, to sue discriminating employers in the courts (after the fact) but it lacks effective enforcement measures that could compel employers to abandon discriminatory practices.

In order to better promote employment equality in China, CLB recommends that the Chinese government broaden the scope of existing legislation, significantly increase fines for employers who illegally discriminate, make it easier for the courts and arbitration committees to process discrimination cases and establish a comprehensive government body tasked specifically with tackling employment discrimination, similar to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the United States. Such a body would be charged with implementing anti-discrimination laws, and have a formal system to investigate and mediate complaints of employment discrimination, and offer to sue employers on behalf of victims.

The implementation of the above measures would demonstrate to employers and civil society that the Chinese government is serious about equality in the workplace and is willing to provide the necessary resources to local government departments, the courts and labour arbitration committees to combat employment discrimination.

This introduction to employment discrimination in China is web-published today and is the latest addition to CLB's Resource Centre, a section of the English-language website designed to provide those relatively new to China with an overview of the key labour issues facing the country today. Other topics covered in the Resource Centre include China's social security system, work-related injury compensation, the labour dispute resolution process, migrant workers, wages, and the reform of state-owned enterprises.

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