Piggybacking on David Henderson’s fun-with-a-point post, “I Was a Chinese Laborer,” about new rules designed to limit how much overtime Chinese workers can put in at Apple’s and other companies’ factories. The goal is “to bring its factories within China’s legal limits of 40 hours of work per week and 36 hours maximum overtime per month by July 2013.” Achieving that goal is thought to by activists to be humane.
When I was just out of high school, I worked on several oil rigs in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada, and I have just learned how oppressed I was.
The deal was that oil riggers worked 12 hours a day for two weeks and then had a week off. Then another two weeks of 12-hour days before another week off. For each workday, 8 hours were regular pay and 4 hours were overtime.
Over a year, that added up to 34 weeks of working 12 hours a day for 7 days a week. Doing the math means I worked 73.6 hours of overtime per month — over twice the Chinese legal limit of 36.
At the time I was ecstatic with my oil-rigs job, though I was dirty and tired for much of the year. But that year’s work paid for my undergraduate tuition, a trip to Europe, and (very important to the 19-year old kid I was) a motorcycle.
Yet according to concerned employee activists, I was a victim. And by implication their belief must be that the Canadian government of 30 years ago was less enlightened than the Chinese government of today. Hmmm …
Or we could agree with Henderson, as I do, that the humane position is to treat adults as self-responsible human beings who can make their own decisions. Good employee activism will think of Chinese workers as grown-ups rather than as semi-helpless, semi-adults who need paternalistic protection for their own good.