Many foreigners work in China, but few know much, if anything at all, about China labour laws. Whatever country you work in, it pays to know your rights as an employee. Here we bring you five labour laws you should definitely know about if you’re working in China.
“The school is great. There’s one thing though.” Those were the words of a foreign teacher at the middle school in Guangdong province where I was once offered an ESL teaching job. That “one thing” was quite important. The school didn’t provide him with a Z-visa, a requirement for foreigners working in China.
China labour laws are difficult enough to navigate without the stress of working illegally. I insisted that if I were to work at the school they must provide me with a visa. It was probably no coincidence that I was then told the position was filled.
Had it been my first time working in China, I might have accepted the job without considering the consequences. Luckily, as I had already taught ESL in China for two years, I was aware of my rights as an employee.
Below are five key rights you should expect to be upheld when working in China.
1) The Z-visa
The fact that some foreigners work in China without a Z-visa is somewhat of an open secret. Some may tell you that “everybody does it,” and based on anecdotal evidence this is largely true. Some employers may have a close relationship with the local Public Security Bureau, the body responsible for issuing residence permits, and therefore may have a blind eye turned to some employees’ lack of proper paperwork. But ultimately it’s beyond your control if you get into difficulties without the proper visa. You may at best draw suspicion from the local authorities, and at worst face arrest and deportation.
Obtaining a Z-visa is, in short, the key to ensuring you have full legal rights as an employee in China. The best way to make sure your employer goes through the necessary process is to insist it’s written into your contract. You can then have peace of mind knowing you’re a fully legal employee in China.
2) Fair pay
As a foreigner, and more specifically as a native English speaker, you’ll be at an advantage in China. Employers, in their bid to attract the best and the brightest from overseas, will usually offer you a salary significantly higher than those of local staff, along with added benefits such as an annual flight allowance and extra leave during important Western holidays. But some employers may seek to take advantage of your lack of experience navigating China’a labour laws and exploit you for extra hours.
As an employee, you need to ensure you’re fully compensated for the work you do. Once again, the contract is key here. Make sure it specifies not only your basic monthly salary, but your hours of work and your rate of overtime pay if required. Many private language training schools will ask teachers to run extra classes during the summer and winter holidays. Some Chinese public schools may offer long winter and summer vacations, but in the small print of your contract state that you will receive only half your salary during this time. Paying attention to the details in your contract will ensure you’re paid fairly for the work you do.
This is another area in which foreigners tend to receive special privileges over local staff. In my previous jobs at private language training centres, I was given 10 days paid holiday in my first year, and 12 days in my second. Many companies may offer consecutive increases in paid annual leave if you agree to consecutive years of employment. At public schools, you’ll not be offered annual leave but will most likely get crazy long winter and summer breaks.
As a minimum, employees are legally entitled to all Chinese public holidays. These include October National Week and Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). Other individual days include the likes of the Dragon Boat Festival and Labour Day. When I worked in Xinjiang in northwest China, employees were also given Muslim holidays to cater to the region’s large Uighur population.
Again, holidays will usually be written into your contract, but it’s worth checking the small print just in case you have an unscrupulous employer who wants to get a few extra days of work from you.
4) Sick leave
Anyone who has exercised their right to take sick leave in the West knows that they require a doctor’s note. Chinese employers are no different and, of course, obtaining a sick note requires going to the hospital to see a doctor. Aside from the language barrier, simply going to the hospital is fairly easy for foreigners as long as you have your passport. The real fun begins when you have to pay the fees.
Many employers offer health insurance as part of their package. If not, you’re advised to buy your own. When I enquired about buying health insurance for China I was sent an email from a broker that claimed that “the average cost for an expatriate for hospitalization for a basic condition is 21,980 USD. For serious conditions like a heart attack it would be 62,800 USD, and cancer treatment will not leave you much change from 157,000 USD.”
I have to say I was suspicious that this was just scaremongering, so I did a quick internet search to see if the claims were viable. According to an article in China Medical News three years ago, in the city of Dongguan in Guangdong province, patients would pay around 147 USD per day for a public hospital bed, while the average cost per person per year of hospital treatment was around 1,260 USD. If you want the luxury of a private hospital, however, that’s a whole different ball game.
The insurance company had most likely presented me with the worst case scenario in a private hospital, but it’s definitely worth having medical insurance in China. You never know when you might need to take sick leave, which means you never know when you need a sick note, which means you never know when you need to pay the necessary costs of a hospital visit and potential treatment. And needless to say, the private hospitals are much nicer than the public ones.
5) Maternity leave
Of course this does not apply to everyone, but foreigners settling down and having children in China is becoming more and more common. Employers are legally required to offer 98 days paid maternity leave beginning 15 days before the expected date of childbirth. Extensions can be granted in special circumstances. These are the legal requirements of any employer in China, but as with all legal rights, it’s best to discuss this with your employer prior to signing a contract. Be warned though, telling your potential employer you’re planning to have a baby will likely not be received with joy.
So these are five key rights that should be upheld if you work in China. If all attempts to resolve a dispute with your employer fail, you have the option of pursuing a legal case. My current contract states that either party (employer or employee) can raise a case with the Foreign Experts’ Bureau, but this should really be a last resort. Pursuit of a legal case in China requires some knowledge of the Chinese legal system, and it’s far beyond my remit as an ESL teacher to give advice on the matter. Instead, you should do everything you can to avoid getting to this stage. That’s why paying attention to all clauses in your contract is key.
Remember too that many China employers advertise for foreigner positions through agencies and recruitment websites. Negative feedback on any failure of the employer to respect your legal rights can be relayed back to these bodies and shared in other online forums for foreigners working in China.
In the end, I’m glad I never took the job at the middle school. I accepted a different job in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, which is dubbed the “California of China.” How could I resist? I had peace of mind, not only because of the palm trees and golden sunny beaches, but also because I was working in China legally and my rights as a employee were being upheld.
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And the same applies to National week...the official holidays have been OCT 1-7 NOT three days. That is the biggest load of B.S. that I have heard. Do a search yourself...then you have authority to back up what you say to your employer the next time he tells you it's only 3 days.
Jun 18, 2018 12:25 Report Abuse
Take note National Week and Spring Festival, the fabled GOLDEN WEEK of Chinese holidays, the government only say the holiday is Three days. Anything more will depend on the institution you are working for. Also a China thing, they do make up days for those holidays, especially for the one day holidays often work the same amount of time.
Feb 07, 2018 17:20 Report Abuse
You don't have a clue what you are talking about. Now be quiet and stop talking If you do a search for Chinese holidays you will see that the official holidays contradict what you say. For example this year the Spring Festival is from Feb 15-21. That is from the State Council in Mainland China. Last year it was from Jan 27-Feb 2 and the year before that it was Feb 8-14. Those are the OFFICIAL days. Simply do a search for "Chinese holidays 2018" and you will see for yourself. Sounds like your employer told you one thing and you simply took it for granted that he was telling you the truth. And then he had a good laugh at you all the way to the bank.
Jun 18, 2018 12:21 Report Abuse