The New Labor Contract Law

The employment and unemployment experience of Europe is quite different from that of the United States. We have developed some frameworks that help us understand the sources of these differences. But we have not yet really addressed the question at the heart of this chapter: what is the impact of different labor market policies in the two places? Government interventions in the labor market are commonplace in most European countries. In Europe, there are many examples of restrictions on hiring, firing, the closing of plants, and so forth. There are some restrictions of this kind in the United States as well but not to the extent that we observe in Europe. In part this is because public opinion in Europe is more supportive of such regulations, as compared to the United States. For example, in 2003, the French food producer Danone decided to close two unprofitable factories in France. This news, which would almost certainly have been unexceptionable in the United States, led to massive protests, boycotts, and condemnation by politicians. Europe is not the only part of the world in which governments intervene directly in labor markets. Labor regulations have recently been under consideration in China as well. [1]

The new labor contract law, enacted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, requires employers to provide written contracts to their workers, restricts the use of temporary laborers and makes it harder to lay off employees.

Because of China’s communist history, most workers are not represented by labor unions. It is the government that steps in to represent workers. The need to do so is enhanced by the increasing share of private rather than publically owned firms in China’s economy. We finish this chapter by considering some of the policies that have been adopted by governments in an attempt to influence the functioning of labor markets. We are interested both in why policymakers think these policies are a good idea and in the effect of these policies on the economy. Unemployment Insurance In , we described the flow of workers between situations of employment, unemployment, and out of the labor force. We also argued that having a flexible labor market in which people can change jobs easily may more than compensate for the fact that people may sometimes spend time in unemployment. But this is abstract economist-speak. People who lose their jobs, even if only temporarily, see their livelihood vanish. The reallocations of jobs that are beneficial to the economy as a whole may be costly, even devastating, to the affected individuals. For this reason, most developed economies have some kind of unemployment insurance to protect their workers. Unemployment insurance means that, if you are unemployed, you will receive some income from the government. Exactly how long you receive this income for and exactly how much you get depends on where you live. Some countries have much more generous unemployment insurance than others.

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