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Public Seek Workers' Rights Protection in New Labor Law

China's top legislature is considering the public's suggestions to give more legal leverage to alternatives to written contracts as it draws up the nation's first labor contract law.

The National People's Congress (NPC) had received 32,791 public suggestions in the last ten days to Thursday on the draft law, which was published for public consultation on March 20.

The number of submissions since March 28 was six times that of the first week of publication, said Kan Ke, spokesman for the General Office of the Standing Committee of the NPC.

Many submissions suggested alternatives to written contracts, Kan said. The ninth article of the draft states only written contracts are effective.

A source close to the legislature said China's lawmakers were seeking written contracts to protect the rights of migrant workers.

"It's now an information era, and labor contracts in verbal or electronic forms should be valid. An employment relationship is established as long as the fact of employment exists," Kan quoted from a submission.

He said some submissions suggesting labor contracts for part-time employment or short-term employment should be effective in verbal forms, and revised contracts with few changes should also be valid with a verbal agreement.

Submissions also criticized the provision that employment without written contracts should be viewed as non-fixed-term, and that the draft law also makes it easier for employers to end such contracts at will.

Some people feared bosses would decline to sign written contracts with their employees, instead opting for non-fixed-term employment so they could sack staff more easily, Kan added.

Many people suggested the law should ban overtime, he said.

"Some employees are forced to work over ten hours a day or seven days a week, but with little overtime pay; while some employers squeeze overtime into their employees' daily assignments, cutting wages for people who cannot finish their work," Kan quoted a submission as saying.

China's current labor contract system was set in a labor law enacted 12 years ago. The draft, if passed into law, will be the country's first law governing contracts. It was submitted to the legislature for review last December, and the public can file submissions until April 20.

(Xinhua News Agency April 8, 2006)

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