Even before they graduate, students are routinely exploited when deployed, for up to one year of their studies, as interns. Under the current system, interns are not technically “employees” and lack the legal protection guaranteed to those with an employment contract. If interns are injured, forced to work excessively long hours or are cheated out of their pay, they often have no one to turn to. And if they complain to their school, they run the risk of not getting their diploma.
A new China Labour Bulletin study, published today, provides a concise introduction to the vocational school system in China. It examines some of the key issues being discussed in the Chinese media, such as forced internships, employment rates and the mismatch between government regulations and reality. The report also discusses the government's current policy initiatives to improve the system, which focus almost exclusively on creating a better fit between businesses and the vocational schools supplying them with labour. And finally, CLB offers a series of alternative policy recommendations focusing more on the protection of interns' rights.
CLB recommends that the government, courts and employers should all recognise that interns are employees and be treated accordingly: They should be paid directly by the enterprise, and no salary deductions of any kind should be passed on to the vocational school. Interns should be guaranteed at least the local minimum wage and be paid the same overtime rates as regular workers. The employer should have the statutory obligation to provide a safe working environment. There should be strict limits on the number of interns employed at any one enterprise and students should only intern at enterprises that have a direct relevance to their studies.
In short, CLB argues the government should recognise that the interests of China's next generation of workers are just as important as the interests of the enterprises who will hire them. The government went some way towards improving the rights of current workers when it implemented the Labour Contract Law in 2008, and it should now give similar consideration to those who will follow.
The Mass Production of Labour: The exploitation of students in China's vocational school system is available on the CLB website as a downloadable PDF. You can also listen to a discussion of the report in our new podcast out today.
For more information about this report or any of CLB's other publications please contact CLB's communications director Geoffrey Crothall.
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