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China Daily Website

Outsourced workers call for change

Updated: 2012-05-07 10:24
By Chen Xin ( China Daily)

If you were doing the same job at the same level as another person but were paid less and enjoyed fewer social welfare benefits simply because you were an outsourced worker, how would you feel?

Li Huan (not her real name), a teacher at Shenyang Normal University in Shenyang, the capital of Northeast China's Liaoning province, is in exactly that position.

"My colleagues and I are doing the same job, but the benefits we get differ a lot. It's not fair," said Li.

She said her basic salary is the same as the regular teachers, but as an outsourced staff member, she only qualifies for the lowest level of social security benefits and her accommodation allowance is much lower than that of the regular teachers.

In China, employers and employees collectively pay into a fund that helps cover housing costs for the employees.

Li said she began working at the school in 2009, but her employment contract was signed with a local employment agency.

In others words, she is an outsourced worker from the agency.

Under Chinese Labor Contract Law, employment agencies can be established to provide workers for temporary and subsidiary positions.

Outsourced workers do not sign contracts with the companies they work for, but with employment agencies. The agency pays the workers' wages while charging the employers a commission and management fees.

Li said all the teachers and administrative staff who have been working at the school since 2008 are outsourced.

"Labor outsourcing has been widely used in teaching, research and administrative posts in universities," said Wang Xiaolong, a consultant with the Chinese Educational, Scientific, Cultural, Health and Sports Workers' Union.

"Outsourced staff always earn around half the wages of regular workers for the same job. They also enjoy fewer social security benefits and have fewer opportunities for promotion and training."

Recent research conducted by Wang's organization at more than 10 universities in northeastern Jilin province revealed that outsourced workers account for 8 to 10 percent of teachers, student advisers and administrative staff in those colleges.

"I have been outsourced for six years. I work harder than regular workers in the same job, but my benefits are much lower. I cannot see a future in the job, and I do not feel secure," said a worker at Jilin Agricultural University's human resources office, quoted in the research report.

These practices also commonly exist in other municipalities and provinces, including Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Zhejiang, said the report.

Universities in Beijing have more than 3,500 outsourced workers in teaching, research and administrative positions, while in Shanghai, the figure is around 2,500, according to the report.

In China, universities are public sector employers and are limited in the number of regular workers they can employ.

Wang said the reason that universities commonly turn to labor outsourcing is that an increase in student recruitment in recent years has pushed the schools to employ teachers in a more flexible way.

"Labor outsourcing usually generates lower costs, so it's quite appealing to universities that are short of funds," he said.

Wang said the practice should not be overused in universities because it leads to inequality among workers.

Zhao Wei, a labor expert at Beijing Normal University, suggested prohibiting labor outsourcing in universities because the jobs of teachers, researchers, student advisers and administrative staff are not temporary or subsidiary positions.

"The universities themselves, not employment agencies, should sign labor contracts with currently outsource workers. They should also ensure that workers doing the same job as regular employees enjoy the same wages and benefits," she said.

Zhao also suggested that the authorities improve the employment model in the public sector and ensure the legal rights of all workers.

Trade unions in universities should also play a larger role, she added.

Liu Ce in Shenyang and Luo Wangshu in Beijing contributed to this story.