China craves stability. High unemployment causes instability.
Today’s South China Morning Post, in China’s small businesses forced to cut back on staff just to survive as economic mood sours amid trade war, talks about how China’s slowing economy is leading to Chinese government concerns about joblessness:
With the Chinese economy slowing, concern has increased among Chinese policymakers about the outlook for employment, since ensuring a sufficient number of new jobs is seen as a necessary ingredient in maintaining social stability in the country. Employment was the top priority the Politburo set last July when it shifted its economic policy focus to stabilizing growth, leading the government to enact a series of policies to counter rising joblessness. This series will explore the employment challenges faced by different segments of the Chinese economy. The first installment examines the issues confronting small to medium-sized enterprises.
Chinese President Xi Jinping warned on January 21 that the Communist Party needed to pay particular attention to the risks to social stability from rising economic problems, as evidence increasingly suggests that the nation’s employment situation is deteriorating rapidly, particularly among small and medium-sized businesses.
The article goes on to talk about Chinese companies laying off workers, but it does not talk about foreign companies doing the same, though of course they are as well, but perhaps more quietly. Our China lawyers are hearing from our clients with WFOEs in China that local government officials are stopping by essentially to make sure no layoffs are coming and if they are, that they are informed in advance.
Our China lawyers have been representing foreign companies in China for more than twenty years and that means we have gone through all sorts of economic and business cycles, including many downturns, though probably none as scary as this one. One of the things we have learned from past downturns is that China really does not want foreign companies to layoff or terminate employees during economic downturns.
China is going through tough times right now and foreign companies that reduce employment will not be viewed kindly. Before you terminate any employee you should weigh the economic benefits of the termination against the possible detriment in your company’s standing with the Chinese government.
If you must terminate employees, by far the best (safest) way is via a mutual termination and a signed and enforceable settlement agreement. A private settlement is way less likely to be noticed by your local government and way less likely to cause major concern. For more on employee settlements, check out Terminating a China Employee: Why Mutual Termination is so Often the Key and China Employee Mutual Terminations: The Dos and the Don’ts.