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Draft Labor Contract Law Improves Protection of Part-time Workers

China is stepping up protection of part-time workers in its highly-debated draft labor contract law.

"The wages of part-time workers should not be lower than statutory minimum wages set by local governments," said the draft, which was tabled to lawmakers for the fourth reading on Sunday.

"Wages should be paid within 15 days," the draft says.

Wages paid to part-time workers drew headlines in April this year, when several international fast food chains in China were exposed for underpaying part-time employees, mostly students.

It was reported that McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut in southern Chinese city Guangzhou paid their part-time Chinese employees four yuan (52 US cents) per hour, more than 40 percent less than local minimum wage of 7.5 yuan (97 US cents).

Similar problems exist in other cities. In Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province, wages for part-time employees were 5.5 (71 US cents) and 3.9 yuan (51 US cents) per hour, lower than the statutory minimum wages of 6.5 (84 US cents) and 6 yuan (78 US cents).

The fast food chains were also criticized for failing to sign labor contracts with employees and overworked staff.

According to China's 1994 Labor Law and subsequent amendments, college students, who work as part-timers, cannot establish normal labor relations with their employers. As a result they are not protected by the decrees.

The draft law stipulates that employers must pay local minimum wages to part-time employees.

Those who refuse to do so will be forced to pay compensation to employees in addition to the wages, the draft says.

The draft also tries to protect workers from workplace dangers.

"Employers should honestly inform applicants of job risks... the risks and the protective measures should be detailed in the contract," the draft says.

Those who force employees to carry out risky operations, work in dangerous conditions, or illegally restrict the freedom of employees, should face criminal prosecution, the draft says.

Statistics from the Ministry of Health show that China has reported 677,000 occupational disease cases since the 1950s, with lung disease the paramount problem.

The bill, designed to build "stable and harmonious" relations between employers and employees, was tabled to the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress for a first reading in December 2005.

Despite the efforts to strike a balance between the interests of employees and employers, the draft has sparked heated debates throughout China.

On March 20, 2006, the General Office of the NPC Standing Committee published the draft for nationwide debate. Within a month, it had received more than 190,000 opinions from the public.

NPC sources said that the bill is likely to be adopted by lawmakers at the end of their six-day session.

(Xinhua News Agency June 25, 2007)

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