This article explores how Human Resource (HR) policies and practices influence employee perceptions of organizational justice, which in turn impacts employee emotions and feelings of emotional exhaustion. Using structural equation modelling and based on employee survey data drawn from two manufacturing organizations, we find that a strong HR system — perceived by workers as distinctive, attractive and consistently implemented — fosters perceptions of distributive, procedural and interactive justice. However, only distributive injustice leads to negative emotions and emotional exhaustion. This is explained by reference to the cultural and institutional context (China), status (migrant) and type of workers (semi-skilled, manual) included in the study. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications that arise from these findings.