By Wu Zhong, China Editor
HONG KONG - Although the Chinese Communist Party still upholds the late leader Deng Xiaoping's policy of "building a socialist market economy", today's China in fact has the ugly features of unbridled capitalism at its early stage. One such feature is social injustice. And one of the rampant malpractices of social injustice is discrimination in employment.
While China now suffers a shortage of talents and skilled workers in certain fields such as high technology, finance or management, the labor market in the country in general is still dictated by oversupply of labor given its huge working population. This enables employers to become very picky in hiring workers by setting up various discriminatory requirements. And job discrimination is found not only in the private sector but among government departments and government-related institutions as well.
In August 2005, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's parliament, ratified the International Labor Organization's Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958. But surveys last year and recent media reports show discrimination in employment still runs rampant in the country.
Between May and October 2006, Cai Dingjian, a professor with China University of Political Science and Law, led a team to conduct a survey on job discrimination in 10 major Chinese cities - Beijing, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Wuhan, Shenyang, Xian, Chengdu, Zhengzhou, Yingchuan and Qingdao. The results show that discrimination in employment is a serious problem in China. Some 85.5% of the respondents said there is job discrimination, and more than half of all the interviewees said the discrimination is "very serious" or "considerably serious".
The poll finds that the most victimized are the disabled. About 22% of the disabled interviewees said their job applications had been turned down. Next are people with low education (18.7%) and then job-seekers who do not have local hukou or residency registration.
And employers do not hide their discrimination against the disabled, as 51.3% of the interviewed employers said that when they turn down job seekers for health reasons, they frankly say so to them.
More striking, 65.9% of the respondents say there is discrimination in the recruitment of civil servants. Excuses for the discrimination are low education (45%), absence of a local hukou (43%), disability (40.9%) and other health problems (40.7%).
"It may be reasonable for government departments to set education requirements for their employees. But it is by all means discrimination to require an applicant to have a local hukou. Does where one is from have anything to do with his or her capability to work in a government department?" Cai told the media when releasing the survey.
Moreover, he said it has been found that in some cases of civil-service recruitment there were discriminatory requirements regarding the applicants' sex, height and appearance. "Many courts demand [that] applicants have dignified features, saying this is to show the dignity of the law. This is nonsense," he said. An ongoing court case serves a good illustration in this regard.
Last June, the personnel and labor authority of Tiantai county, Zhejiang province, put up a notice to recruit three clerks for the local court. Hu Binbin, a 24-year-old local woman who had been working in the court as a part-time clerk for three years, filed an application. She failed to pass the physical examination because she was a bit shorter than the 158 centimeters required by the court. Hu then filed a lawsuit with the county court against the personnel authority for job discrimination, as no law and regulation sets a requirement on height for a court clerk.
Hu lost her case in the first trial. She then appealed to the Intermediate Court of Taizhou city, whose jurisdiction covers Tiantai county. The court hearing was held this April and the court has yet to pass down its ruling.
If there is such serious job discrimination in government recruitment, it is not hard to imagine how rampant the malpractice is in the private sector. And not only ordinary laborers but university graduates now also suffer discrimination in employment.
The rapid expansion of higher education over the past decade has resulted in an oversupply of university graduates, particularly those in humanities, arts and social sciences. Official statistics show that nearly half of the graduates could not find jobs after graduation last year. As a result, university graduates, who used to be regarded as "sons and daughters of heaven" and who never worried about employment, now also suffer discrimination when they compete with one another for jobs. According to a survey co-sponsored by China Central Television, 74% of job-seeking university graduates say they are discriminated against.
For university graduates, sexism is the most common form of job discrimination. Employers normally prefer men to women when they have a choice. Another survey co-sponsored by Sina.com showed that 60% of female graduates interviewed said they had more difficulty finding employment than their male competitors.
A boss of a trading company in Shenzhen does not hide his sexist view, saying it is out of "practical concerns". "I prefer hiring male staffers. A female university graduate would soon get married after taking a job. Then she would get pregnant and give birth to a child, taking a long leave. Afterward her mind would be occupied with her baby and could hardly concentrate on her work even during office hours. It's troublesome. In contrast, a male employee normally would be more career-oriented," he said, declining to be named.
There are now even cases that job seekers from the one-child generation are discriminated against. A civil servant from Tianjin municipality complains that his only son's job application has been rejected by several large state-owned enterprises, which all say, "We don't consider single-child applicants." The reason? Single children born after 1980 are generally spoiled, are unable to endure hardships, and cannot get along with others.
"Such discrimination is openly defiant against the one-child policy, which is a national policy backed up by law. The government must do something to stop such illegal practice," the civil servant said.
But since most youngsters in their 20s today are single children, how do these enterprises find employees? "They would look for university graduates from farmers' families, as the one-child policy is not carried out to the letter in the countryside. And even a single child from a farmer's family may be considered less spoiled," he said.
Job discrimination runs rampant because there is no legal protection for equal opportunity in employment. China's constitution stipulates, "Citizens enjoy equal right of employment." The Labor Law says, "Laborers enjoy equal right of employment and selection of jobs" and "Laborers shall not be discriminated against because of their ethnicity or religious beliefs." Except for such vague stipulations of principle, there is no detailed legislation on what should be banned as job discrimination.
China's fast economic development over nearly three decades has greatly benefited from globalization. To cope, the country has been trying to adapt to international practices by ratifying international covenants and conventions such as the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958. But after signing and ratifying such documents, China has rarely passed the necessary legislation for their implementation.
The International Labor Organization convention has a clear-cut definition of what constitutes job discrimination. If the Chinese government is serious about implementing the convention, it should work out detailed laws and regulations. Only in this way can the constitutional right of Chinese citizens to equal job opportunities be truly and fully protected.
(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved.