Part time work is not as common in China as it is in the West. From a legal perspective, regulations are not very comprehensive or detailed. However, the labor market in China is dynamic, changing, and influential. Foreign companies may thus find themselves in situations where employing part-time workers is advantageous.
China's labor market is one of the most economically influential of its type in the world. It is important that foreign companies are aware of the different laws and options relating to hiring workers, in case a changing situation on the ground necessitates a change in HR strategy.
Chinese Law defines three types of workers as "part time". These categories are:
Workers doing consulting work, over an unspecified or varying amount of time;
Workers doing part time work of a set number of hours/days per week;
Workers who used to do full time hours, but due to unforeseen circumstances now work less hours/days than previously.
Employees who are part time are defined as such by the number of hours per week that they work: typically two or three full days, or working for shorter stretches of time for a total of 24 hours per week or less.
The amount of days/hours should be clearly specified in the employee's contract. If they are changing from a full time contract due to some sort of unforeseen circumstance, then the written contract should be changed.
In these roles, the "employee" should be autonomous from the employer; this level of autonomy is what is defined as the difference between a consultant and a part time contract worker.
In the case where an employee is working two or more jobs at once, Chinese law places higher levels of power over the employer who first signed the contract with the employee. In the case of an employee doing two concurrent jobs, the employee must ensure that they meet the requirements of the first company that they were employed by.
Where doing the extra job prevents the employee from fulfilling the requirements in their contract, the employer can terminate the employee – however, the employer must have some sort of evidence of negligence on the part of the employee.
If the employment relationship is part time, employers are not required to pay contributions to social or medical insurance. They are still required to make contributions for industrial injury insurance.
Part time work in the context of the Chinese economy
Part time work is not a dominant part of the Chinese labor market. From a cultural perspective, doing a basic part time job in a fast food restaurant or supermarket is not the rite of passage that it is in the West: in China, most of these "basic" jobs are filled by migrant workers from the countryside.
As urbanization in China increases and wages continue to rise, we may see a shift away from full time work to part time work over the long term. However, that is not the case at this stage, and a business strategy should not assume an availability of large amounts of part time workers.
Recommendations and risks
Although "part time" might imply a level of casualness, employers are still strongly advised to write up and sign with the employee a formal paper contract that clearly stipulates the roles and responsibilities of each side. This should include the employee's work hours.
The legislation and legal precedent for part time and concurrent work is not yet very clear in China. This is an area of business in the country that is both subject to uncertainty, and with the potential to change. Employers who decide to hire part time workers should remain abreast of current trends in China's legal environment and labor market conditions.
Depending on the situation of the company, employee, and labor market, a part time labor relationship might be mutually beneficial – but the employer must be aware that there is still both potential risk and legal formalities that must be upheld, just as there would be in a more regular full time contract.
Finally, a company employing part time employees should be aware of heightened risks for IP security, as well as potential conflicts of interest that come if someone is working two jobs at once.