Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Missing Element in China Labor Issues

Recent news has been full of accounts of dissatisfied workers in China. First, there was the string of suicides among workers at the massive Taiwan-owned Foxconn factory in southern China. Then there were the strikes against Japanese-owned Honda auto parts factories. Now it seems that worker unrest has spread north to another Taiwan-owned factory in Kunshan, Jiangsu province.

Not being much of an expert in labor issues, I have largely avoided comment on this issue while watching the labor experts analyze the minutiae of management-labor relations, rising wages and their potential impact on China's manufacturing base.

The one issue I have yet to see highlighted is the fact that, so far, all of these suicides, strikes, etc., have occurred at foreign-owned or controlled companies. China's state-owned enterprises have (thus far) remained unscathed by what looks like a trend of worker dissatisfaction.

Do SOEs treat their workers better than foreign companies? Do they pay their workers better? Or have the SOEs simply been lucky so far?