Plan to Ease Life for Flexible Workers
01 Sep, 2021  |  Source:China Daily  |  Hits:1465

Guideline looks to strengthen the protection of the rights of couriers, ride-hailing drivers

The 200 million flexible workers nationwide who have long struggled for equal working rights can breathe a sigh of relief as the central government is stepping up efforts to improve how they're treated.

The State Council, China's Cabinet, released a plan late last month to promote employment during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25), stressing the need to regulate the development of flexible employment by getting rid of impediments and protecting the rights of workers, which include couriers, food deliverymen and ride-hailing drivers.

Supporting campaigns for the flexibly employed is included in the plan. For example, authorities are required to create new training courses and establish online training platforms. The flexibly employed can also be secured at their work places, regardless of the administrative constraints imposed by their hukou, or household registrations.

The central government has also introduced other strong measures aimed specifically at protecting flexible workers' rights recently.

Early last month, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security together with seven other central departments jointly released a guideline aimed at improving the quality and fairness of the flexible employment sector by securing more rights for workers.

The guideline has specified responsibilities that companies and platforms are required to shoulder once they hire flexible workers, including ensuring they earn at least the minimum wage and that salaries match workloads, as well as clarifying when and how they are paid.

Reasonable break schedules are also required.

Some administrative requirements, such as improving payment mechanisms, work security, social benefits, supervision and mediation efforts to address disputes are clarified in the guideline.

Moreover, authorities should improve the processing of insurance applications, better organize skill training and enhance oversight of the flexible employment sector to create a better working environment.

Nie Shengkui, director of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security's labor relations department, said at a news conference on Aug 18 in Beijing that companies are required to protect their employees' rights once a relationship has been established under the labor law. As for those who do not have a formal labor relationship, their rights and obligations are generally covered by the civil law.

However, some workers, especially part-timers or freelancers who make their living through online platforms, have greater flexibility and can choose whether to accept work. Thus, neither the labor law nor the civil law offer full protection for the special labor relationship between platforms and the flexibly employed.

In addition, platforms have taken advantage of both legal and administrative loopholes to force employees to work harder, often denying them even the power to fight back.

Take food deliverymen as an example. The number engaged in flexible work now stands at 7.7 million, but many struggle with the platforms' pursuit of higher profit and a bigger share of the delivery market.

Last September, Renwu magazine published a story about the tough working conditions of deliverymen. Platforms make full use of workers by urging them to finish orders within shorter time periods-even in less than half an hour-through the use of continuously updated algorithms.

As a result, deliverymen have had more trouble with obeying traffic rules. Figures from Shandong's Jinan Public Security Bureau traffic police division show that in the first six months of this year, the 11,515 registered food deliverymen in the city committed 4,304 violations.

Driving against traffic, running red lights and riding on sidewalks were the three main infractions, the police said.

Pang Shi, a researcher and deputy director of the employment and entrepreneurship department at the Chinese Academy of Personnel Science, said that strife between flexible workers and their employers has been intensified by factors including ambiguous labor relationships, a shortage of social security benefits and insufficient working rights that mandate rest periods, healthcare and compensation for work-related injuries.

She said that the newly released guideline will greatly benefit the sustainable development of flexible employment and the shared economy by clarifying what obligations companies have to the flexibly employed.

The central government has spent the past few years striving to better protect the rights of the flexibly employed, as the sector has grown in size, reaching about 200 million so far.

In 2016, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions released a notice urging local trade unions to set up services stations for outdoor flexible workers to provide access to drinking water, toilets and places to rest.

"So far, we have built 78,217 stations with an investment of about 938 million yuan ($145 million). About 59 million outdoor workers are benefiting," Huang Long, deputy director of the federation's legal work department, said at the news conference on Aug 18.

The federation set a new target recently to recruit over 8 million flexible workers to trade unions nationwide by the end of December next year to help protect their rights.

In July, Premier Li Keqiang said at the State Council's executive meeting that protecting the rights of such workers is beneficial to promoting flexible employment, expanding job opportunities to the public and increasing incomes.

Li said at the meeting that the job market still faces great pressure this year. Enhancing the protection of the rights of the flexibly employed will boost job opportunities for migrant workers and help the government achieve this year's employment target of 11 million new urban jobs, he said.