Employment & Labor

The current employment law in China is mainly regulated by the PRC Employment Law (PEL) which took effect on 1st January 1995. Local governments make regulations based on their different area's local policies. However, all regulations are guided by the PEL and will be regarded as void if they are conflict with PEL. The PEL has thirteen chapters which cover almost all aspects of employment relationships, such as working hours, holidays, salary, health and safety, training, social insurance and welfare, disputes and discrimination on grounds of race, sex, disability, age. What follows is a brief summary of the main provisions of the PEL.

Forms of employment contract

Employer and employee are required by the PEL to enter into a written employment contract but an oral employment contract is also enforceable when an employment relationship has actually been formed by conduct.


Employment contracts can apply to a fixed period, an open period, or just to a specific project. However, if an employee has worked for the same employer for more than ten years and both parties want to continue the relationship, the employee has the right to determine whether the contract should be for a fixed term or not. Normally, an employment contract has a trial period of no more than six months. During that period, the employer may terminate the contract if the employee is found to be unsuitable for the work he is doing.

Confidential information

The law provides that an employer may require an employee to keep business information confidential as a term of their contract. Damages are available to the employer if the employee breaks this or any other term of the contract.


There are different rules for the parties to terminate the contract. An employer, can terminate on 30 days notice, if the employee is ill or has a non-work related injury and is not able to carry out any of the work which he has been contracted to perform, provided all treatment to remedy the illness or injury has been completed. There is no right to terminate the contract while treatment is in progress;the employee is not suitable for the work he is doing and after training or being given alternative work, he is still not suitable for that work;  the contract becomes unenforceable because a 'major situation' has changed on which the employment contract mainly relies. Although the PEL does not define the term 'major situation', the courts have held that the term may include changes in law or policy.

Employees must normally give their employer 30 days notice to terminate the contract. However, they could leave anytime without 30 days notice, if they are in the trial period; the employer forces them to work by violence, threats, or by unlawfully restricting their freedom;  the employer does not pay or provide work conditions according to the contract.


There is no equivalent regulation to TUPE (The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 and 2006) in China. However, article 27 of PEL provides that an employer may dismiss an employee if the company is about to wind up, go into administration (normally within two years), or serious difficulty has occurred with the business which has drastically reduced its turnover. The company must give the union or its entire workforce 30 days notice for discussions to take place and must report the situation to the relevant department of the Ministry of Employment. Redundancy payments are calculated at the rate of one month's pay for each completed year's service.

Working hours and holiday

All employees work eight hours per day and generally no more than 44 hours per week. Employers have to give employees at least one day off per week. Overtime must be negotiated with the relevant union, but normally not more than one hour per day is allowed. If there is a specific situation which requires overtime, the employer must ensure the employee is fit to do the work. The over-riding limit on overtime is no more than three hours per day, to a maximum of 36 hours per month. Overtime rates are time-and-a-half for normal workdays, double-time for weekends and triple time for public holidays.

Employees have the right to paid leave. The duration of such leave will depend on the type of work, the length of service and local regulations. For example, in Guang Dong province, employees with between one and five years’ service are entitled to a minimum of 5 days holiday and a maximum of 14 days for over 20 years’ service.


There are three ways to solve disputes between employers and employees: mediation, arbitration and litigation.Mediation is not compulsory, but if the dispute is not settled by mediation, arbitration becomes compulsory for the parties before they can actually go to the courts. The parties are required to pass case papers to the arbitration panel within 60 days of the dispute arising. The courts will refuse to hear the case unless this procedure is followed, except where a force majeure has occurred, or there is a reasonable reason which has caused the application to be delayed. Normally, the arbitration panel makes a decision within 60 days. The parties can either accept the arbitration decision, in which case it becomes enforceable, or they may then ask to be dealt with by the courts, but must apply to the courts within 15 days of receipt of the arbitration panel’s decision.

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