Although studies on Chinese industrial relations (IR) have examined topics such as unionization and collective bargaining, little is known about employers’ reactions to recent IR changes. In particular, researchers have not thoroughly considered foreign employers’ labor relations strategies. Amidst this background, the purpose of this paper is to investigate how a foreign employer perceives and responds to the recent IR changes in China.
This paper conducted an exploratory, inductive study of the Chinese subsidiary of one multinational corporation. The data were collected through the author’s extensive fieldwork at its headquarters and Chinese subsidiary.
This paper shows that the union of a foreign firm in China serves three major functions – a collective voice, a monopoly, and an external affairs function – and that the firm’s interpretation of these functions has changed within China’s dynamic IR environment. Further, this paper finds that an employer has initiated its own compliance strategies, such as forming a friendly union, decoupling the union’s functions, de-collectivizing employment relations through effective HR practices and stricter policies, and scaling down in size to reduce administrative burden.
By introducing an employer perspective regarding recent IR changes, this paper provides a nuanced understanding of unionization and collective bargaining implementation in China. In addition, this paper identifies an emerging pattern of employer perception and response in China, highlighting unique features that have not been addressed in the existing literature on employers’ anti-union behavior. This study’s contributions also facilitate further research encompassing different contexts.
Funding: this study was supported by the Sogang University Research Grant of 2013 (grant number 201310038.01).
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