NPCSC Session Watch: Women’s Rights, Trade Unions, Yellow River & Black Soil Protection, Emergency Management Reform & More (Updated)

UPDATE (Dec. 16, 2021): According to a spokesman for the NPCSC Legislative Affairs Commission, the NPCSC will additionally review a draft revision to the Company Law [公司法] and a draft amendment to the NPCSC Rules of Procedure [全国人民代表大会常务委员会议事规则] at its December 2021 session.

The Council of Chairpersons decided on Monday, November 29 to convene the 32nd session of the 13th NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) from December 20 to 24. The session’s tentative agenda includes fourteen bills. A quick rundown follows.

Returning Bills

Eight bills return for further review.

First, the draft amendment to the Organic Law of Local People’s Congresses at All Levels and Local People’s Governments at All Levels [地方各级人民代表大会和地方各级人民政府组织法] returns for a second review. It was initially reviewed just two months ago at the last NPCSC session, so either it would pass this month or it would head to the 2022 NPC session for a final reading, as the Law was originally enacted by the NPC.

Second, the draft Anti–Organized Crime Law [反有组织犯罪法] and the draft Wetlands Protection Law [湿地保护法] return for a third—and most likely—final review.

Third, the draft revision to the Scientific and Technological Progress Law [科学技术进步法], the draft Noise Pollution Prevention and Control Law [噪声污染防治法], the draft amendment to the Seed Law [种子法], and the draft amendment to the Civil Procedure Law [民事诉讼法] all return for a second review and are also expected to pass at this month’s session.

Finally, the draft revision to the Vocational Education Law [职业教育法] also returns for a second review, and an additional and final reading is expected.

As usual, we will discuss any approved bills in more detail in our post-session recap.

New Bills

At least six new bills have been submitted for review.

First, the Council of Chairpersons submitted a draft amendment to the Trade Unions Law [工会法]. The Law was last substantively amended in 2001, and another update has been made necessary by China’s economic transformation in the two decades since. According to experts, Chinese trade unions’ largely vertical structure—and not one based on industries and sectors—renders themselves ill-equipped to deal with the rising platform economy, at a time when grievances among platform workers like food-delivery workers have led to waves of protests. And due to the Law’s narrow definition of “laborers,” platform workers might not even be eligible to join a union in the first place. The draft amendment was jointly drafted by the NPCSC Legislative Affairs Commission and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, but its contents are so far unknown. We expect it to pass after two or three reviews depending on its scope.

Second, the NPC Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee submitted a draft Black Soil Protection Law [黑土地保护法]. Black soil is one of the most fertile soils in the world. China’s black earth region, one of the largest in the world, is located in the Northeast (primarily in Heilongjiang and Jilin) and accounts for about 12% of the global total, according to a 2021 white paper by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. China’s black soil region contributes to approximately a quarter of the country’s grain production, but has been suffering from soil erosion and declining fertility due to inappropriate farming practices and climate change, says the white paper. This bill was likely drafted after the Communist Party decided to “implement the National Black Soil Protection Project and promote conservation tillage” in the so-called “No. 1 Document” of 2021, which focuses on rural and agricultural issues. We expect the bill to pass after three reviews.

Third, the NPC Social Development Affairs Committee submitted a draft revision to the Women’s Rights and Interests Protection Law [妇女权益保障法], last substantively amended in 2005. While the exact contents of the draft revision are not yet known, it is expected to comprehensively update the Law. It will likely incorporate and refine the Civil Code’s anti–sexual harassment provisions and codify some of the objectives and measures laid down in the State Council’s Outline for the Development of Chinese Women (2021–2030), an all-encompassing policy document touching on issues such as women’s healthcare, education, employment, political participation, property rights, and marital rights. As the Law was original enacted by the NPC, it is possible that the revision will be submitted to next year’s NPC session for a final review.

Fourth, the State Council submitted a draft Yellow River Protection Law [黄河保护法]. The drafting of this Law started in late 2020, following the Politburo’s approval of a comprehensive plan for the conservation and development of the Yellow River Basin in October 2020. In April 2021, the Ministry of Water Resources sought public comments on a prior draft. According to a speech by NPCSC Chairman Li Zhanshu, the Law would draw experiences from the recent Yangtze River Protection Law [长江保护法], enacted last December, while being tailored to the unique characteristics of the Yellow River, such as its high amount of silt and scarce water resources. We expect the bill to pass after three rounds of review.

Fifth, the State Council also submitted a draft revision to the Emergency Response Law [突发事件应对法]. This legislative project was first included in the NPCSC’s special legislative plan to improve public health legislation, adopted in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Law’s enactment in 2007 was originally prompted by the 2003 SARS epidemic, but contrary to expectations, it has not been very effective in dealing with subsequent emergencies such as the 2008 winter storms, 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Critics argue that the Law affords weak protections for individual rights and fails to provide for effective coordination and information-sharing among government agencies. The revision will likely be comprehensive (it appears that the Law will be renamed, too), and we expect it to pass after three reviews.

Finally, the NPC Financial and Economic Affairs Committee submitted a draft revision to the Decision on Strengthening the Oversight of Economic Work [加强经济工作监督的决定]. This quasi-legislative decision governs the NPCSC’s oversight of the State Council’s “economic work,” which primarily entails the formulation and implementation of China’s annual, five-year, and long-term plans for national economic and social development. Like the recent enactment and update of the decisions governing the NPCSC’s oversight of the State Council’s management of state assets and its oversight of the central budget, this revision is expected to strengthen the oversight process by laying down more detailed requirements for the State Council to follow. We expect the revision to pass at the upcoming session.

Though not listed in the readout of the Council of Chairpersons’ meeting, we also expect the upcoming NPCSC session to deliberate several draft decisions governing, respectively, the composition of the next NPC and the methods for electing delegates from Hong Kong and Macao to the next NPC. These decisions will then be submitted to the 2022 NPC session for a final review.

As per custom, the upcoming NPCSC session will also adopt a decision to convene to the 2022 NPC session and hear a report from the Legislative Affairs Commission on its effort to review sub-statutory legislation in 2021.

Lastly, the Council of Chairpersons on Monday also approved a set of Working Measures for the NPC Standing Committee’s Law Enforcement Inspections [全国人大常委会执法检查工作办法]. We will cover this document if and when it is released.

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