Tigers in Harbin and Observations from Guangzhou China
By Al Kirkpatrick, CISO for Firestorm’s The Kirkpatrick Report
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
My last stop in China – Guangzhou – is pronounced “Gwan-joe” and is another modern, huge city of approximately 12 million people. Below Guangzhou lies the main part of China’s well-known manufacturing areas, but the city itself is a major commerce area and financial center.
Guangzhou Work Life
As you know, this trip is all about computer security assessments, and candidly, I have been pleasantly surprised at the level of preparedness and consistency with all our vendors here. Policies are well documented (mostly in Chinese, but some in English as well) and appear to be closely followed. Employee perks that are widely provided in the U.S. – particularly access to email and the Internet for personal usage (although that is on the wane) – are not expected or provided here.
I have observed row upon row of employees working head-down with minimal interaction (chatter) with co-workers unless it is production-related.
Labor laws and customs are certainly different from the U.S., but not so different as I guess I expected. The 40 hour work week is the norm with Saturday and Sundays off. Companies supporting U.S. operations adjust for that, and management often puts in long hours – but not really different from the U.S. Employees below management level expect overtime pay for work greater than 40 hours although this can be computed on a monthly or different basis. So, when volume creates a long work-week, the employer often provides comp-time off the next week. Working on a national holiday (and there are ten of these), earns a worker triple pay. This certainly creates some added expense for companies supporting off-shore customers since the customer’s holidays do not match and the company is faced with triple-pay for the national holidays.
Here’s an interesting twist; apparently personal time off (vacation, sick leave, etc.) is accrued over the person’s career instead of within one employer. Five days for the first ten years, 10 days for 10-20 years and 15 days over 20. This passes from employer to employer along with other work records. There apparently are few, if any, worker confidentiality laws as in the U.S.
Guangzhou Family Life
China still maintains the one baby per family law, although this is loosening as the government recognizes the associated problems. A family may have a second child, but pays a fine, and the second child apparently has limited official recognition. Women are guaranteed a minimum of three months paid maternity leave and the father gets at least ten paid days.
The employer is required to pay for health care insurance with the worker paying a very small percentage (15%?).
Work is based on a very detailed employment contract. The company may lay off workers, but is bound to provide severance pay based on length of service.
China and Emigration
It appears that China citizens can move easily around the country and even emigrate outside with no more hassle than the U.S. One major difference, however, is that the central government appears to have a very disciplined system to ensure that it knows where every citizen is beyond casual trips in/out of their home for a few days/weeks.
The key to this is the Chinese “family book.” This is a government required and tracked document that the head of every household must keep identifying all offspring and their current status and location. If a daughter marries, she is formally deleted from her father’s book and added to the new husband’s family book. If she divorces, she moves back to the original family book. Citizens are required to register if they change their home address So, while this first hit me as the “big brother” approach that I was conditioned to expect in China, in thinking it through, it’s really no different from the information that our credit agencies maintain in the U.S. – but perhaps more accurate.
Divorce is allowed and apparently significantly on the rise with the younger generation. Children usually go with the mother and the father is required to make support payments.
So, as I said, the details are different, but overall being a business worker in China is not so different from counterparts in the U.S. I’m not naive enough to think that in the rural areas life is all roses, but at least in the urban areas and for workers in business processing, they appear happy, healthy, worried about the economy, how to make next month’s house payment, and how to raise the kids. Sound familiar?
By the way – one of my contacts here asked it I had read a the Wall Street Journal article on “Tiger Moms.”
I had indeed read it (required reading if you have not!) and frankly expected to be told that the article was way-overstated and not an accurate picture. To my surprise, my contact said he felt the article was accurate and fair and that his own wife is indeed a Tiger Mom with his daughter. His daughter is seven, and they are well along with planning her life. Apparently the norm is for the parents to plan the child’s career.
Whereas in the past, many Chinese wanted their only child to be a boy, now they are finding it economically advantageous to have a girl. Here’s why: The parents of a boy are expected, after college graduation, to set him up in business and a home. The son’s parent pay for the wedding and monetarily compensate the parents of the bride for their loss of a daughter.
However, women are increasingly becoming career focused, and a two-income family is more and more required as cost of living soars in the cities.
Leaving Guangzhou and China
We ended our visit to Guangzhou with a river-cruise on the Pearl River through the heart of the city where skyscrapers display an array of light shows that is so spectacular that words cannot do it justice. Every one of our vendor hosts here have gone out of their way to ensure that we received all the business information we required, but also that we tasted the surround culture.
So, it’s time to board the bird and head to India. My time in China has been a wonderful business and personal experience and I fully intend to bring my wife, Nancy, back here for a vacation.
Gum Bai! (Now I’ve got to go remember how to say “bottoms up” in Indian…)