The Legal Construction of the Work-Retirement Nexus:
A New Social Contract for Older Workers in China
Dr. Mimi Zou
Date: March 12, 2019 (Tuesday)
Time: 1:30pm – 2:30pm
Venue: A723, 7/F, Cheng Yu Tung Tower, Centennial Campus, HKU
Abstract： The prolongation of one’s working life is quickly becoming a social, economic, and legal norm in China, as policymakers are confronted with the challenges of population ageing and a shrinking workforce. The debate over retirement and pension reform in China and other ageing societies reveals a complex and multi-faceted relationship between labour regulation and social protection. A special feature of the work-retirement nexus in China is the employment classification of a worker who remains in the workforce past their statutory pension age. Under Chinese labour law, once a worker reaches the pension age, their labour contract is deemed terminated at law and subsequent work arrangements are governed by general contract law. This exclusion of post-retirement workers from the scope of Chinese labour law has largely been unchallenged until recently, as a growing number of disputes concerning their employment classification have been brought before local courts. This talk undertakes a close textual analysis of the courts’ application of the relevant laws and regulations at national and local levels. Specifically, it seeks to answer the following questions: 1) How have Chinese courts approached disputes over the employment status of post-retirement workers with reference to the relevant laws and regulations? 2) How does this classification rule interact with other regulatory and institutional frameworks to construct a particular kind of social contract for older workers in China? 3) How can this social contract become more inclusive and promote decent work? Although there is extensive social science scholarship on retirement and pension issues in China, there have been relatively few critiques of the rule concerning the classification of post-retirement workers. This talk aims to fill in this gap, which is significant in terms of addressing decent work deficits for a growing group of Chinese workers. Beyond exposing substantial divergences in judicial approaches in different localities, this paper also examines how such a rule interacts with various pressures on older workers to work longer, including regulatory and institutional weaknesses such as a lack of age discrimination protections. Based on a normative framework of substantive equality and decent work, I argue the case for a new social contract for work and retirement in China in light of the substantial policy challenges arising from seismic demographic shifts.
About the speaker: Dr Mimi Zou holds the first academic appointment in Chinese law at the University of Oxford, where she has the role of developing the subject as a new field of study and research. Her areas of expertise are in Chinese and comparative employment and contract law, with extensive peer-reviewed publications that have won or been shortlisted for prestigious international awards. Dr Zou graduated from the University of Oxford with the BCL (Distinction) and DPhil in Law. She also has degrees in Law, Economics, and Social Sciences (First Class Honours & University Medal) from the University of Sydney, Australia. She has also been called to the Bar of England and Wales by the Inner Temple. She has over 15 years of professional experience in law firms, international organizations, government and non-governmental organisations around the world. She is currently a special adviser to the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office.