Labor union reform called for

Updated: 2011-05-03 09:12
Large Medium Small

HANGZHOU - Li Chunhao, a migrant worker from Southwest China's Guizhou province, works at a security company in the eastern Zhejiang province.

Li said that when it comes to claiming back unpaid wages, he would consider resorting to violence because he "has nothing to lose."

"I will gather some friends and fellow townsmen and go to argue with my boss. That is the most efficient way to get back wages," Li said.

Related readings:
Labor union reform called for Labor union leaders call for co-op
Labor union reform called for Labor union organizes activities
Labor union reform called for Shanghai seeks migrant workers for population balance
Labor union reform called for More migrant workers stay home

Many migrant workers say they consider labor unions to be empty shells, rather than institutions that can effectively protect workers' rights.

"I dare not to go to the labor union when my rights are violated because I don't want to risk losing my job," said Zheng Junjian, a migrant worker from Henan province.

In the eyes of many Chinese workers, the labor union is part of the company management, instead of an organization supporting the rights of workers, as the Trade Union Law stipulates.

"The union representatives will always stand on the side of the heads of the company when solving labor disputes, because the operation of the labor union depends, by and large, on the company budget," said Song Shijun, a migrant worker from Anhui province.

In situations regarding pay rates and work hours, many migrant workers seek help from friends, labor bureaus or the media, while very few of them turn to the labor union.

Compelled by distrust of the labor union, some migrants in Hangzhou city, capital of Zhejiang province, decided to establish an organization of their own to protect their rights.

Founded in 2006 by migrant worker Xu Wencai from Jiangxi province, the Grassroots Family was a non-governmental institution providing services that included rights protection, training, and employment for migrant workers in Hangzhou.

The organization had been gaining influence since its establishment, as it proved effective at protecting workers' rights.

However, the local government incorporated the Grassroots Family into the labor union system in June 2010, as government officials believe that the development of the non-governmental labor organization without government direction would pose potential threats to the government's work.

Xu Wencai said that the members of the Grassroots Family lost their sense of belonging after the incorporation and that he was afraid that, under government supervision, the new establishment would become another ineffective labor union.

Some experts say the labor union would be a better institution if it was financially independent of the enterprises.

Ye Faming, chairman of the federation of trade unions in Zeguo township of Wenling city, Zhejiang province, said, "If the funds of the labor unions can be allocated within the labor union system, the labor unions will be more effective at voicing the demands of the workers."

Yang Jianhua, chief of the research center with the Zhejiang Academy of Social Sciences, noted that the establishment of some non-governmental labor organizations under the guidance of the government is also needed to protect the rights of migrant workers.