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Key issue for China's new labor law: enforcement

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The comprehensive labor law that China's top legislative body passed Friday includes provisions that have appeared in previous legislation. But what may be different this time, some observers say, is the government's willingness to enforce mandates protecting workers' rights.

Scheduled to come into effect on Jan. 1, 2008, the law stipulates that employment contracts must be put in writing within one month of employment. It also says that employers must fully inform the worker of the nature of the job and of their working conditions and compensation. Furthermore, it limits the ability of employers to use temporary laborers.

But the law's impact lies in how the government interprets and enforces it. "As is always the case with China's laws, the real question will be in whether the new laws are enforced, how they are enforced, and against whom they are enforced," says Dan Harris, an expert at the law firm Harris & Moure.

But, he adds, "there is a feeling the new labor law is more likely to be enforced than the old and, in particular, will be enforced against foreign companies."

Indeed, organizations representing firms doing business in China have objected to certain provisions they say are unclear. In comments last year, the US-China Business Council warned, "The Draft Law may … reduce employment opportunities for PRC workers and negatively impact PRC's competitiveness and appeal as a destination for foreign investment."

On Friday, Xin Chunying, the deputy chairwoman of the National People's Congress Law Committee, tried to allay the fears of foreign companies. "If there were some bias," she said, "it would be in favor of foreign investors because local governments have great tolerance for them in order to attract and retain investment."

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