Resolving work-related Injury problems in China: comparing migrant and urban workers
This thesis seeks to describe and explain differences in the ways in which migrant and urban workers in China deal with problems arising out of injuries sustained at work. A socio-legal approach is adopted and a mixed-method research design, involving a questionnaire completed by 291 migrant and urban workers and qualitative interviews with 22 injured workers, 28 mediators and human resource managers, and seven judges, arbitrators and other legal actors, is used. In the light of questionnaire findings, this study shows that the paths and outcomes of the claiming and dispute process for migrant and urban workers are different. Migrant workers who are dissatisfied with the initial decision are more likely to follow a ‘private route’ for seeking compensation and to achieve a less satisfactory outcome, while urban workers are more likely to follow an ‘administrative route’ for claiming insurance and to achieve a more satisfactory outcome. To explain the differences, three hypotheses are tested: a dual legal systems hypothesis, which attributes the differences to differences in the way the law treats migrant and urban workers; a dual labour market hypothesis, which attributes the differences to differences in the way firms treat migrant and urban workers; and a legal consciousness hypothesis, which attributes the differences to differences in the beliefs and attitudes of migrant and urban workers. The legal framework for work-related injury compensation in China gives equal rights to migrant and urban workers but stipulates different dispute-resolution procedures and different remedies for insured and uninsured workers. As migrant workers are less likely to be insured than urban workers, they are less likely to be able to take the administrative route, and have to undertake private bargaining and/or initiate legal proceedings to seek compensation. Since the public (administrative) legal system is superior to the private (civil) one, migrant workers often achieve less satisfactory outcomes than urban workers. Firm-level practices reinforce and reproduce the labour market inequalities between migrant and urban workers. Priority for participating in the insurance scheme is given to those who are highly skilled, formal workers, higher wage earners, workers who are paid on a time basis and trade union members. These workers are more likely to be urban workers. Temporary, unskilled employees and workers who have a higher risk of experiencing an industrial accident, who are often migrant workers, are marginalised by these practices. Such a situation is more common in foreign-owned and collectively-owned enterprises and domestically-owned private enterprises than in state-owned enterprises. In the case of private bargaining, whether workers achieve a satisfactory outcome is also related to the internal dispute resolution system of the enterprise. In state-owned-enterprises and foreign-owned enterprises, migrant and urban workers have more equal access to internal dispute resolution procedures than in collectively-owned and domestically-owned private enterprises. The three hypotheses are not mutually exclusive. The study concluded that the legal consciousness hypothesis was not supported by empirical evidence, that there was empirical evidence to support the other two hypotheses but that dual labour market hypothesis was more important than the dual legal systems hypothesis. The findings suggest that regulating the state-enterprise relationship is likely to be the most effective means of tackling the inequalities in dealing with disputes arising out of injuries sustained at work.