Legal Aid in China

Today, China has more than 270 million rural migrants working in manufacturing, construction and services industries. And increasingly they have become aware of their legal rights, and are actively seeking legal remedies for workplace disputes. However, the number of labor law practitioners offering legal representation has not matched up with the magnitude of labor rights violations.  

For over a decade, with the emerging discourse of rule of law and civil society, ILRF has developed strong partnerships with universities, civil society organizations, and legal practitioners in China to foster a new generation of skilled labor law practitioners and provide support to workers’ legal claims.

Our partners in China have trained and worked with hundreds of judges, arbitrators, lawyers, law school students, and employees of government legal aid centers and members of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). Such broad collaborations with a range of individuals and institutions have been a key strength of ILRF’s work in China.

At the core of ILRF’s work in China is our deepening collaboration with university-based labor law clinics in China. The legal clinics not only present labor law students with practice-based learning opportunities, they also provide access to legal remedies for migrant workers. These clinics have handled hundreds of cases in mediation and arbitration and thousands more in legal counsel. 

In 2013, ILRF’s university partners founded the Professional Committee of Labor Law Clinic Education, a network of labor law academics and university-based legal clinics in more than a dozen universities across China, which has organized an annual conference every year to discuss challenges facing practical labor law education and labor law issues. Currently, ILRF is seeking to expand this network and create more opportunities for exchanges among the participants. 

To strengthen China’s trade unions, ILRF has worked with provincial and local level branches of the ACFTU and the Ministry of Justice’s legal aid centers. ILRF-sponsored trainings have been held in Anhui, Jiangsu, Shaanxi, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, and have focused on difficult legal problems commonly faced by migrant workers in both origin and destination regions.

Recognizing the need for community-based support, ILRF has worked with community groups to provide legal aid and run courses aimed at raising Chinese workers’ legal rights awareness. The topics of these classes range from labor law, health and safety to job skills training. Workers who attended the classes have been able to apply the knowledge and skills to resolve labor disputes through judicial, quasi-judicial and non-judicial mechanisms.  

As the landscape of labor relations evolves in China, ILRF aims not only to help workers address issues such as injury compensation, unpaid wages and illegal dismissal, but also gender discrimination, occupational health and safety, and labor casualization among other emerging workplace issues. 

ILRF’s China Program will continue to be committed to improving the legal and policy environment for labor rights protection and labor law reforms.

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