EU offers China advice on welfare, labour laws

Business Materials 12 January 2008 08:03 (UTC +04:00)

( dpa )- British experts are advising Chinese officials on how to minimise the social impact of closing down unproductive mines. In Shanghai, the local pension system is largely based on Sweden's.

When it comes to employment and social affairs issues, experts from the continent that invented the modern welfare state believe they have plenty to offer to China.

"We want to help China develop a modern system of social protection," EU Commissioner Vladimir Spidla told Deutsche Presse - Agentur dpa ahead of his departure for a three-day visit to Shanghai on Friday.

During his visit Spidla , a Czech who holds the employment and social affairs portfolio, planned to share his views on labour relations and social security and sign a formal agreement with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the country's top think tank in this field.

While China is free to pick and choose policy ideas from Japan, the United States or any other nation, experts in Brussels say the EU is especially well-positioned to offer advice.

In recent years, for instance, the EU has helped a number of nations make the shift from a planned to a free market economy (10 of the 12 countries which have joined since 2004 were once under communist rule).

And other areas where the EU sees itself as having positive track records include managing diversity and securing social cohesion.

"The EU and China both want to combine social and economic progress. And while they have 31 provinces, we have 27 member states," one EU official noted.

Despite or perhaps because of its dazzling economic growth record, China is now suffering from many of the problems that Europe has spent years trying to deal with.

One concerns health and safety in the workplace.

More than 101,000 people died in work-related accidents in China in 2007. And though 10 per cent down on the previous year, the figure provided by the head of the State Administration of Work Safety is considered "unacceptably high" by Chinese officials.

Meanwhile, the government has spent billions of renminbis to improve safety in its coal mines, considered among the most dangerous in the world.

Another huge problem that China is only now beginning to confront - and which Europe knows plenty about - is an ageing population.

As a result of its "one family, one child" policy and of the fact that richer Chinese now live longer, the life expectancy rate of Chinese men has now risen to 71.3 years, compared with 63.2 years in India.

The EU has so far provided 20 million euros (28.8 million dollars) in funds, as well as technical assistance and training of civil servants, to help China modernize its pension system.

Such help is not entirely free of self-interest, however. If Chinese workers were granted better pensions and more rights, for instance, this would limit "social dumping" - a term used to describe a country's ability to export cheap products by enforcing only weak labour standards.

Improving working and social conditions in China, Spidla said, is "in our own interest. It is the best way to defend ourselves from social dumping."