Chinese Official Defends Job Losses

CHINA'S labor minister, Ruan Chongwu, yesterday confirmed reports that disgruntled workers were staging protests, but denied the protests were exacerbated by reforms in the state sector that have led to 1 million job losses this year.

"Every year, there are quite a number of labor disputes," Mr. Ruan said at a news conference. He said he had no information on the number of strikes and other labor-related incidents.

Redundancies were causing some discontent among workers in state enterprises, but the vast majority of workers were satisfied with China's labor reforms, Ruan said.

One key reform involves redundancies. One million people were made redundant since January, but some have managed to find work in the private sector. Private-sector jobs generally pay better, but do not provide the vast array of perks of the state sector.

Local newspapers have recently reported strikes and other labor-related incidents, but Ruan turned aside questions about them. He ruled out allowing the formation of independent trade unions to defend workers' interests, since government-sanctioned unions were looking out for the workers.

Police have crushed attempts to establish free unions in China and labor leaders have been jailed. Still, China's labor reforms are proceeding at the right pace, Ruan said. "From the very beginning of the labor reforms, we purposedly did not set any speed limit."

Diplomats said China's socialist leadership, which came to power with promises to ensure workers' livelihoods, has been reluctant to highlight its efforts to smash its system of cradle-to-grave job security and benefits.

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