Working Men Need Protection as Much as Women

Last week the China Daily explained a new labor law – due to come into effect on January 1 – that ostensibly protects women from job discrimination.

Ironically, the way that it does this is to list jobs that are “unsuitable for women.”

These jobs including working in mines, cutting lumber, installing and removing scaffolding and carrying heavy weights.

On the heavy weights issue, there are plenty of burly women – and plenty of weak men. Those jobs might have physical strength requirements, but should be based on ability, not based on gender.

The other three restrictions are based not on physical ability as much as physical danger.

And, it is true, mining is not a safe environment these days in China. But it’s not safe for anyone, whether male or female.

Rather than forbidding women from taking these jobs, the labor authorities should be cracking down on industries that violate safety standards.

After all, who would argue that men are more expandable than women? That their lives are worth less, and that they need fewer protections?

Okay, there are some women – maybe those going through a divorce, say – who might feel that way. But that’s no reason to set public policy.

There’s also the question of setting precedent.

If mining jobs are too dangerous for women, what about jobs requiring riding bicycles on city streets? Or jobs requiring long hours and stressful work, which might lead to heart attacks? Or police work, or fighting fires, or farm labor? Working on a farm is pretty dangerous work.

In the United States, for example, the farming industry as a whole is almost as dangerous as mining, with 22 deaths per 100,000 per year for farmers, compared to 24 deaths per 100,000 per year for miners. By comparison, the rate is 3.8 per 100,000 for all jobs, according to 2002 data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Forestry and fishing also had high death rates.

The people with the most dangerous individual jobs – in the United States, at least – are timber cutters, fishers, pilots and navigators, structural metal workers, roofers, electrical power installers, farm workers, construction laborers, and truck drivers.

Does the same apply to China? Not exactly.

Last fall, Xinhua reported that the three most dangerous jobs in China are mining, policing, and journalism.

As an employer, can I now refuse to hire female business reporters on the principle that these jobs are dangerous? After all, there’s a precedent — the government has a policy in place of protecting women by keeping them out of dangerous jobs. And, if you work in television, there’s also all that heavy equipment to lug around.

China’s labor law is well-intentioned, but does the opposite of what it is supposed to do. I hope that the Labor Ministry takes another look at this issue before the law goes into effect.