Con­fus­ing rules turn ex­pats off na­tion’s so­cial in­sur­ance pro­gram

Lack of ef­fi­ciency and clar­ity de­ter par­tic­i­pa­tion, re­port in Chongqing and

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA -

Elsa Jac­quin has a so­cial in­sur­ance card is­sued by the Chi­nese govern­ment, but the French ex­pa­tri­ate is not sure if she is cov­ered by the coun­try’s so­cial se­cu­rity net­work, and doesn’t know where to seek an an­swer to this and many other ques­tions.

“How should I draw my pen­sion? Where should I go when I re­lo­cate to other cities in China? How can I ac­cess un­em­ploy­ment or ma­ter­nity ben­e­fits?” she asked, adding that many of her friends are just as con­fused.

Jac­quin paid so­cial in­sur­ance con­tri­bu­tions via her for­mer em­ployer when she lived in Bei­jing, but can­celed the pay­ments when she moved to Chong-qing in 2012.

She now runs a con­sul­tancy and is hop­ing to en­roll her for­eign em­ploy­ees in the pro­gram, but doesn’t know where to seek help.

In 2011, the Min­istry of Hu­man Re­sources and So­cial Se­cu­rity is­sued a reg­u­la­tion stip­u­lat­ing that all for­eign­ers work­ing in China should be in­cluded in the so­cial se­cu­rity sys­tem from Oc­to­ber that year.

How­ever, a lack of ef­fi­ciency and clar­ity in im­ple­men­ta­tion means many for­eign work­ers are hes­i­tant about join­ing the pro­gram.

Ac­cord­ing to the min­istry, just 33 per­cent of the 600,000 for­eign­ers work­ing in China last year had joined the pro­gram by 2013. “The par­tic­i­pa­tion rate of those from over­seas is small com­pared with the num­ber of ex­pats in China,” Hu Xiaoyi, vice-min­is­ter of hu­man re­sources and so­cial se­cu­rity, told a news con­fer­ence in De­cem­ber.

Lu Quan, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Ren­min Univer­sity of China who spe­cial­izes in so­cial in­sur­ance, said in­ef­fi­ciency and the opaque na­ture of reg­u­la­tory de­tails are de­ter­ring greater par­tic­i­pa­tion by for­eign­ers.

“Al­though China’s econ­omy has de­vel­oped ag­gres­sively, ser­vices such as pen­sions still lag be­hind. Many ex­pats re­turn to their home coun­tries when they re­tire and then find it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to col­lect their pen­sions,” he said.

In ad­di­tion, he pointed out that med­i­cal bills in­curred out­side China are not cov­ered by the in­sur­ance sys­tem, re­duc­ing its ap­peal to those who travel fre­quently.

Ex­pats with valid work per­mits

Francesca Roberts, a 23-yearold English teacher in Chongqing, de­scribed her visit to a pub­lic hos­pi­tal as “an ex­pe­ri­ence I never want to go through again”.

Be­cause Roberts speaks lit­tle Chi­nese, a col­league ac­com­pa­nied her to the hos­pi­tal. “I told my col­league how I felt, and my col­league trans­lated to the doc­tors. Af­ter an ex­am­i­na­tion, the doc­tor ex­plained ev­ery­thing to my col­league and fi­nally my col­league told me. My col­league knew more about my health prob­lem than I did. I felt there was no pri­vacy at all,” she said.

How­ever, when she at­tended the ex­am­i­na­tion room on her own, Roberts was un­able to un­der­stand the doc­tors and nurses, who all spoke in Chi­nese. “For quite a long time I didn’t know what was go­ing on,” she said. Ex­tra pay­ments

To bet­ter ben­e­fit em­ploy­ees and abide by the law, many em­ploy­ers sup­ple­ment the State sys­tem by buy­ing ad­di­tional med­i­cal in­sur­ance that cov­ers in­ter­na­tional and pri­vate hos­pi­tals.

“The med­i­cal in­sur­ance in the pro­gram doesn’t cover the in­ter­na­tional de­part­ments of pub­lic hos­pi­tals or pri­vate clin­ics, where most English-speak­ing doc­tors work,” said Zhang Fu­lan, deputy gen­eral man­ager of China Ser­vices In­ter­na­tional, which pro­vides a range of ser­vices for ex­pats, in­clud­ing en­rol­ment in the so­cial in­sur­ance pro­gram.

Zhang said most large com­pa­nies, such as State-owned and in­ter­na­tional en­ter­prises, en­rol in the pro­gram to abide to the law, but pri­vate com­pa­nies, es­pe­cially small and medium-sized busi­nesses, are re­luc­tant to do so.

“Em­ploy­ers have to pay nearly 40 per­cent of an em­ployee’s monthly con­tri­bu­tion, which is a huge drain on small busi­nesses,” she said.

As gen­eral man­ager of a small busi­ness with four em­ploy­ees, Jac­quin said small and medium-sized com­pa­nies feel the pinch more than larger busi­nesses. “The cost is enor­mous,” she said.

Lei Ting, a hu­man re­sources ex­pert at Microsoft, said the com­pany pro­vided train­ing for HR staff when the pol­icy was in­tro­duced in 2011 to en­sure they fully un­der­stood the pro­gram.

“We ex­plain to prospec­tive ex­pat em­ploy­ees that the in­sur­ance is manda­tory and that they have to sign up if they want to work here. Our com­pany is in China and we are obliged to abide by the coun­try’s laws and reg­u­la­tions,” she said.

Lei de­clined to pro­vide de­tails of any other cover the com­pany pro­vides for for­eign em­ploy­ees.

Both em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees are con­cerned about the lack of in­for­ma­tion about the pro­gram.

Zeng Yu, an HR spe­cial­ist for Brose, a Ger­man au­toparts com­pany, in Chongqing, said she knew very lit­tle about the pol­icy un­til she at­tended sem­i­nars and dis­cus­sion groups to learn more.

“Ger­man work­ers don’t need to pay the pen­sion, but they are still re­quired to pay for other in­sur­ance poli­cies, in­clud­ing ma­ter­nity and work in­juries,” she said. Im­prov­ing the sys­tem

To im­prove the pro­gram for ex­pats, the Chi­nese govern­ment will ne­go­ti­ate bi­lat­eral so­cial in­sur­ance agree­ments with other coun­tries.

The agree­ment with Den­mark was signed in De­cem­ber, said Hu Xiaoyi, vice-min­is­ter of hu­man re­sources and so­cial se­cu­rity, at a news con­fer­ence that month. He said China has ne­go­ti­ated agree­ments with 12 coun­tries dur­ing the past three years.

Xi, from North­west Univer­sity, said two fea­tures of the so­cial in­sur­ance sys­tem are widely ac­cepted in the in­ter­na­tional la­bor mar­ket. The first con­cerns bi­lat­eral agree­ments, such as those with Den­mark, South Korea and Ger­many. The se­cond re­lates to a sys­tem used in the Euro­pean Union where ex­pats are ex­empted from pay­ing two pre­mi­ums; their pen­sions are dis­trib­uted by dif­fer­ent EU coun­tries, depend­ing on how long they worked in a par­tic­u­lar coun­try.

“We can uti­lize the EU’s ex­pe­ri­ence in the East Asia re­gion to rec­og­nize so­cial in­sur­ance in coun­tries and re­gions in East Asia,” Xi said.

Lu from Ren­min Univer­sity of China sug­gested that in­for­ma­tion about the pol­icy and its im­ple­men­ta­tion should be pro­vided to for­eign­ers when they en­ter the coun­try to en­sure they are fully briefed be­fore they start work.

“The in­for­ma­tion should be dis­played at air­ports and in­cluded in ser­vice brochures for for­eign­ers. As things stand now, the pol­icy lacks trans­parency,” he said. Con­tact the writ­ers at lu­owang­shu@ chi­nadaily.com.cn and caoyin@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

Tan Yingzi contributed to this story.

WANG XIAOY­ING / CHINA DAILY

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