What Preconditions Industry-Level Collective Bargaining in China?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 4:00 PM
Room: Booth 41
Oral Presentation
Hao ZHANG , Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
As indicated in a fair amount of existing literature, China has been seeing a tendency of fast growing collective bargaining in general and industry or regional level bargaining in particular. Significant cases have constituted a fact of the centralization of the bargaining structure in China as opposed to the established knowledge that collective bargaining in China is largely institutionalized at the firm level. The centralization is not only news in China’s industrial relations studies, but also somewhat counter-intuitive in the context of the worldwide decentralization of collective bargaining structure since the late 1980s and early 1990s.

This counter-intuition has raised the question of what has led to China’s centralization of collective bargaining, or more generally, what factors precondition relatively centralized bargaining (e.g. industry-level bargaining). No systematic study has provided a theoretical framework that helps us perceive this issue.

This study tracks multiple industry-level bargaining cases in a same city in China. It examines varieties of institutionalization processes of industry-level bargaining, as well as distinct roles of relevant players—unions, workers, employers’ associations, individual employers, and government officials.

The industry-level bargaining scenario it has revealed in this city, being admittedly somewhat regionally characterized, illustrates the power dynamics that relevant players interact with each other in the sphere of collective bargaining in China (political/institutional factors). It also shows that economic/industrial factors matter—different industries have had very different institutionalization processes of the bargaining.