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Cablegate: Gender, Age, Beauty and "Unlucky Name" Discrimination

VZCZCXRO3439
RR RUEHCN RUEHGH RUEHVC
DE RUEHGZ #0766/01 1860850
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 050850Z JUL 07
FM AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6223
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC
RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 0457
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 GUANGZHOU 000766

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE PASS USTR FOR STRATFORD, WINTER, ROSENBERG, KARESH
LABOR FOR ILAB LI ZHAO, SCHOEFFLE
TREASURY FOR OASIA/ISA-CUSHMAN
USDOC FOR 4420/ITA/MAC/MCQUEEN
GENEVA FOR CHAMBERLIN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB PHUM SOCI SCUL PGOV CH
SUBJECT: Gender, Age, Beauty and "Unlucky Name" Discrimination


Ref: Beijing 4467

1. SUMMARY: Students, officials and professors at several South
Chinese universities lamented the failure of China's new Labor
Contract Law (ref) to eliminate discrimination based on gender, age,
and, of all things, beauty, the latter a requirement that usually
includes a minimum height. The female students in particular were
offended by hiring practices that excluded them from "male only"
jobs, such as middle and high school science and math teachers.
Several students thought it nonsensical that in 2007 the Guangdong
courts had upheld employers' rights to terminate employees with
"unlucky" names. Discrimination in employment, sometimes for
reasons that totally elude us, remains common in China. Beijing
plans to address this through an Employment Promotion Law, currently
under consideration by the National People's Congress, but even with
a new law, it will take a considerable amount of education and
persuasion to eliminate certain forms of discrimination. . End
Summary

Gender Discrimination - Completely Absurd
-----------------------------------------

2. In informal discussions with PAO, a number of students, officials
and professors at local universities lamented the failure of the
recently passed Labor Contract Law (ref) to outlaw discrimination
based on gender, age and beauty. (Note: discrimination based on
ethnicity, gender, race and religion is already illegal under the
1994 Labor Law. End note.) Our interlocutors argued that people
should be allowed to decide for themselves what jobs were suitable -
or not. A number of the women stated that the designation "male
only" made it difficult - if not impossible - for them to find jobs
in fields requiring a science background, as with middle and high
school teaching jobs reserved for men at a recent job fair. Asked
why companies and schools adopted "male only" policies, our contacts
offered a number of reasons, including traditional views and
employers fear that women would leave after they had a baby. With
regard to the latter, women can retain their jobs for up to six
months after giving birth; we have no statistical information on how
many do not return.

Age Discrimination - Some Merit
-------------------------------

3. Women believed that they were most disadvantaged by age
discrimination. Reportedly if a woman was too young and not yet
married, employers would be concerned that she would leave after
getting married and having a child. On the other hand, if she was
in her mid-thirties and already had a husband and child, employers
believed that she would be taking time off to care for her family.
Several of the professors pointed out that because they worked at a
university they were not forced to retire at the current mandatory
retirement age - men age 60 and women age 55. Not unexpectedly, the
young people we spoke with believed that a mandatory retirement age
made sense, because if people never left there would be few jobs for
new hires.

Beauty Discrimination - Worth Considering
-----------------------------------------

4. For both men and women, the most onerous aspect of the beauty
qualification was that employers were free to stipulate a minimum
height. The minimum height had nothing to do with the requirements
of the job; it was simply a component of beauty. As for other
elements of beauty, there was a consensus that "everyone" knew who
was and was not good-looking. Somewhat surprisingly, our
interlocutors seemed to accept this type of discrimination. One
student stated that it was a scientific fact that students learned
more from good-looking teachers than from those who were beauty
challenged and therefore good-looks was a reasonable requirement. A
female student said that it was commonsense that an ugly person
could not deal with the public - potential customers would not
respond well.

"Unlucky Name" Discrimination - Now that's Nonsensical
----------------------------- ------------------------

5. In line with the discussions of what types of discrimination were
rational, several business students roundly criticized the practice
of "unlucky name" discrimination. Recently the Guangdong courts had

GUANGZHOU 00000766 002 OF 002


upheld an employer's right to fire an employee with the name Xiong,
one pronunciation of which means bear. The employer believed that
this employee had caused him to lose money in the stock market (bear
versus bull market) and therefore had to go. In another case, a
long time employee was let go because his name was pei, one
pronunciation of which means to lose money. The students pointed
out that in Guangdong employees had their names looked at from both
a Mandarin and Cantonese perspective. All agreed that these court
rulings were nonsensical but there was no way for the fired
employees to appeal the court's decision.

Comment
-------

6. Discrimination in employment remains common in China, even based
on attributes forbidden by the 1994 Labor Law. In a recent 10-city
survey published by Beijing's China University of Politics and Law,
85 percent of respondents said discrimination existed in the
workplace, with over 50 percent acknowledging "serious
discrimination." China hopes to address the discrimination problem
(in keeping with its December 2006 ratification of ILO Convention
111 on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation) through an
Employment Promotion Law (EPL), which is now under consideration by
the National People's Congress. The EPL would expand the definition
of discrimination to outlaw discrimination based on age and bodily
disfigurement. Academics are also agitating to cover such
characteristics as place of origin and physical appearance as well.
The prevalence today of forms of discrimination that are already
illegal, however, suggests that even when China passes the EPL,
creating a non-discriminatory labor market will require greater
enforcement efforts, as well a public education campaign to change
the thinking and practices of employers.

7. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Beijing's Labor
Attache.

GOLDBERG

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