06/10/2015 15:06 BST | Updated 06/10/2015 15:59 BST

Jeremy Hunt's 'US And China Work Ethic' Tax Credit Justification Is Actually A Little Scary

Jeremy Hunt has suggested that British workers ought to take a leaf out of the book of American and Chinese employees in a bid to boost productivity in the UK.

He said controversial cuts to in-employment benefits send an "important cultural signal" by encouraging a work ethic similar to China and the US.

The health secretary made the comments during a question and answer session at the Conservatives’ Manchester party conference.

china workers

A Chinese worker despairs in this file photo

While what occurs in reality may differ wildly from written law, these facts and figures provide an indication as to what the race to the top – or to the bottom – may require of hardworking Brits.

Hint: Say goodbye to plush parental leave entitlements. Workers of Britain, take note...

#1 Parental leave

In the US, you won’t necessarily be paid while caring for a newborn. In China, you’ll be fully paid for 98 days.

American mothers are eligible for a minimum of 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for their newborn child.

But there’s a big catch - Federally-mandated family and medical leave isn’t available to:

  • workers in small businesses employing fewer than 50 people

  • part-time workers, workers who need time off to care for seriously ill elderly relatives who aren’t parents

  • those suffering from short-term illness

  • or to facilitate routine medical check-ups

That’s a lot of exclusions.

And even those who are eligible often chose not to take their allowance.

New parents in America are more likely to return to work soon after having a child. A 2005 study found one-third of American mothers return to work within three months of giving birth – whereas just 5% do so in Britain.

Meanwhile, in China, maternity leave is fully paid, but for just 98 days.

The equivalent in the UK is currently 39 weeks, paid at 90% for the first 6 weeks, and £139.58 for the remaining 33 weeks.

And our parental leave can be shared between mother and father – up to a maximum of 52 weeks.

annual leave

#2 Annual leave

In America, the average annual leave entitlement after one year of service is 10 days (PDF).

In China, employees are allowed 5 days of annual leave between one and 10 years of service, and as much as 10 days for those who’ve served longer. But everyone is allowed 11 additional paid public holidays regardless of time spent at work.

Working Time Regulations govern UK workers’ right to 28 days paid leave, breaks from work and they limit excessive working hours.

#3 Wages

While the United States’ federal minimum wage is just $7.25 per hour some states mandate more.

In China, the minimum hourly wage varies wildly by locality but begins at around 11.20 Chinese Yuan – or $1.76.

In Britain, the minimum wage is £6.70 – or $10.17 – for those aged over 21.

health and safety

#4 Health and safety

The International Labour Organisation says that China has continued to improve upon its occupational safety record. But in 2002, the last year for which data is available, close to 15,000 people died at work in the country - around 0.154% of the labour force.

In the US, the ILO says that 5214 people died at work in 2008, the last year for which data was available - around 0.0033% of the labour force.

While in the UK, the ILO reports that 148 people died while working in 2013 - 0.0004% of the labour force.

#5 Discrimination

In America, the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution prevent discrimination by federal or state government. Subsequent legislation limits private sector discrimination – notably the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Age discrimination is also the subject of legislation.

The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China “stresses that all citizens are equal and that ethnic minorities, people with religious beliefs, and women are not to be discriminated against in any aspect of civil life, including employment,” according to China Labour Bulletin.

Recent legislation governing discrimination in the UK includes the Equality Act 2010, requiring all people to be treated equally unless there is good justification to do otherwise.


#6 Dismissal

Workers in the United States generally do not have contracts, the OECD (PDF) found. Those workers who aren’t members of a union (the majority) have no legal protection from dismissal – fair or otherwise. And they won't necessarily be told why they've been let go.

In China, the OECD (PDF) reports an employer may terminate an employment contract by giving the worker 30 days' prior written notice or paying one month's wage in lieu of notice.

While in the UK, employees are entitled to written statements of reason for their dismissal if they’ve had 2 years’ service, and even if they haven’t if they’re fired during pregnancy or maternity leave. Some legislation exists to determine fairness.

A notice period calculator exists to determine the number of weeks notice an employee is entitled to, the OECD (PDF) notes, though for some employees this is less than one month.