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Agendas, alternatives, and collective labour law: A case study of local collective bargaining legislation in South China

Siqi Luo (Center for Chinese Public Administration Research/School of Government, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou, China)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 5 June 2017




The purpose of this paper is to explore how different actors interacted to influence local labour legislation in the case of the collective bargaining regulations in Guangdong Province, China, using long-term observation and in-depth interviews.


This paper uses the case study method to investigate the process of local labour law-making in China. First, the primary data focus on a series of in-depth interviews conducted in 2014. In Guangdong Province, the author collected the thoughts of three well-informed provincial and municipal-level trade union officials, one government official, five scholars and lawyers, four enterprise union chairs and three labour activists. Second, these interviews are triangulated with legislative documents and the author’s observation of three public meetings. Held at various times from 2011 to 2014, these meetings were organized to discuss different legislative drafts on collective bargaining.


The six-year process of adopting collective bargaining legislation in Guangdong presents a complex picture as different actors joined the process at different times and engaged in different ways. Labour strikes were a crucial force in drawing the attention of both the local and central governments and functioned as a means to repeatedly make collective labour relations a policy “issue” for the government, particularly in 2010. Another actor – the local official trade unions – played a decisive role by not only putting the “issue” into the decision-making agenda, but by also providing policy alternatives based on workers’ bargaining practices. At the same time, business associations, using slow economic growth as an excuse, exerted their economic leverage to pressure for suspension of the first two rounds of legislation. Nevertheless, the new political leadership assuming office in 2013, using an adoptive but restrained logic, pushed for the enactment of the compromise regulation.

Research limitations/implications

Guangdong Province and its emerging collective labour regimes are not representatives of China, but they are at the frontier of the labour field. Thus, this case study was an example of the “most dynamic” interaction with the “most participative” actors and perhaps the “most pro-labour” of China’s official trade unions.


This paper is original and draws special attention to the dynamic process of the local law-making and the rationales of different actors in China.



This research received funding from the “Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities” under the title of “Confrontation, Subordination and Consensus: Exploring the Paths to Harmonious Labor Relations” (No. 1409027).


Luo, S. (2017), "Agendas, alternatives, and collective labour law: A case study of local collective bargaining legislation in South China", Employee Relations, Vol. 39 No. 4, pp. 541-560.



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