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    Working Hours In China

    It’s a widely known reality that workers in China frequently find themselves exposed to extended hours of unpaid overtime. But what do China’s labor rules require when it comes to working hours and overtime, and what are you rights as a worker?

    The Rules

    A worker in China can legally put in no more than eight hours per day, or 44 hours per week. Any overtime completed on top of these hours should be paid at 150% of the base pay if the overtime was worked on a regular day, 200% of the base salary if on a rest day (such as Saturday or Sunday) and a whopping 300% if on a national holiday.

    Officially, workers cannot be compensated for overtime by having time off subsequently. To follow the letter of the law, if an employee puts in 11 hours of work, they should be compensated for 8 of those hours at the regular rate and 3 of those hours at the overtime rate. In addition, overtime should not exceed three hours a day or 36 hours per month.

    There Are Three Systems in Use Across One Country

    However, Chinese labor laws recognize the fact that the Standard Working Hour System of eight hours a day and 44 hours a week is not practical for every job and industry. There are therefore two other systems employers in China can use.

    The Flexible Working Hour System - which is only applied to certain positions, such as sales executives, senior management and drivers - allows employers and employees to work together to design a system where hours are calculated on a weekly or monthly basis. However, the final number of hours worked must be as close to a 44-hour working week as possible. Paying a worker a set salary by month regardless of the hours worked is not permitted. With this method an employer is not required to pay overtime, but the employer must ensure the workers have “sufficient time off” to ensure their well being.

    The Comprehensive Working Hours System is another approach, but it, too, is limited to use in specific industries like the transportation, construction, and tourism sectors. Under this system, an employee’s working hours are calculated periodically, such as by the week, month, quarter or year. However, again, the average daily and weekly working hours should be more or less the same as the standard system. Under this method employers can compel workers to toil for any number of hours each day at no overtime pay as long as then total number of hours doesn’t exceed those permitted within the cycle.

    In general, the local labor authority's blessing is required for any business that wants to implement either the Flexible Working Hours System or the Comprehensive Working Hours System with their employees.

    The Reality

    In truth, a lot of enterprises in China just flout the labor rules and create up their own internal procedures. It's very common, for example, for Chinese companies to have employees redeem their overtime hours by coming in late or finishing early on other days rather than paying them the overtime rate.

    By law, the CEO of a factory and a line worker must both be paid on a rigid hourly system. As this is simply not practical, most companies in China will adopt a system of its own, often not entirely in keeping with the law.

    In the severe circumstances, especially in less formal sectors such as construction and service, individuals might find themselves compelled into excessive overtime with no remuneration at all. Some employees without a formal employment contract may discover they’re not paid until a project is done or even until the Lunar New Year when Chinese people usually want to settle their affairs.

    The Consequences

    When companies ignore the labor laws, as is quite common in China, they leave themselves at risk of disgruntled employees making claims for overtime pay after they have either resigned or been terminated. Companies not obeying the rules may be charged with unpaid overtime hours, plus interest, plus penalties. The labor authorities in China tend to come down rather severely on violators when presented with a case, especially if the accused firm is foreign owned.

    Your Cards as an Employee

    Make sure you understand the company's policy on calculating overtime before signing a contract in China. By referencing the aforementioned platforms, you'll demonstrate to your potential employer that you know your stuff and won't be easily exploited. If your potential employer cites a system outside of the rules, such as getting time off instead of overtime pay, it’s up to you whether or not you agree to this. As such an agreement won’t be in your work contract and is not technically legal, you may find the reality is different once you get to work. You will, however, be allowed to file a complaint against your employer if you ever felt the need to. If you think such a move could be in your future, be sure to record all the unpaid overtime hours you work. Yet, in the end, it is preferable to insist on a legal system from the start.