The prospect of decent work, decent industrial relations and decent social relations in China: towards a multi-level and multi-disciplinary approach

Fang Lee Cooke, Jiuping Xu, Huimin Bian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Decent Work is a key initiative launched by the International Labour Organization in 1999. The initiative is to promote decent and productive employment with decent conditions of freedom, equality, security and human dignity. In reviewing academic literature on decent work, existing studies have been conducted primarily from a legal and political economic perspective. It is also largely situated outside any national industrial relations framework, both theoretically and practically. Decent work is an advocacy initiative of ILO, but the promotion of universal values embodied in the notion (e.g. equality, fairness, justice and dignity) needs to be tailored to specific societal contexts. Drawing on existing academic literature, this review article examines ideological, institutional and cultural distances between decent work and the reality of employment in China. It argues that achieving decent work requires an ideological transition of ‘traditional’ Chinese work ethics and a cultural transition from collectivism and altruism towards individualism and an emphasis on individual rights. This study also examines and highlights regulatory enforcement deficits and the inadequate role of the trade union in facilitating the advancement of decent work at various levels. Finally, the article argues that the study of decent work should be mainstreamed as an integral part of decent industrial relations and ultimately, decent social relations. It calls for a multi-level and multi-disciplinary approach to examining the historical, political, economic, ideological and cultural context of specific countries in fulfilling the ‘Decent Work’ agenda.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-155
Number of pages34
JournalThe International Journal of Human Resource Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • China
  • decent work
  • industrial relations
  • labour rights
  • social relations
  • trade union

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