80% foreign firm workers to have TUs

By Wu Jiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-01-09 07:05

Workers in about 80 percent of China's foreign-funded and private enterprises will form trade unions by the end of the year, a top union official said Tuesday.

It aims to unionize 70 million migrant workers in the tertiary and secondary industries, too, to help the working class to be better organized, All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) executive vice-chairwoman Sun Chunlan said.

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The ACFTU will promote unionization in large-scale multinational enterprises, as well as smaller firms through joint negotiations with their managements and workers.

"Overall, the situation of trade unions in foreign-funded firms is much better today," Sun said on the sidelines of the 2008 International Forum on Economic Globalization and Trade Unions.

Despite resisting it for a long time, some multinational companies saw their workers forming unions last year. Wal-Mart was one such firm, with workers in 77 of its 84 outlets in the country doing so.

Many of the unions have helped realize the rights of the workers. For instance, the Wal-Mart unions in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian Province, impressed upon the management to raise part-time workers' wages to 6 yuan (75 US cents) an hour, that is, above the city's minimum wage of 5.5 yuan.

The setting up of unions in Wal-Mart outlets worked as a big stimulus for other foreign firms, such as Carrefour, McDonald's, Motorola and Nescafe, Sun said earlier.

This year, she said, the ACFTU will focus on helping workers form trade unions in newly set up foreign-funded firms and a few "tougher" ones that have been stopping their staff from doing so.

Workers had formed unions in 60 percent of the 51,728 foreign-funded firms by the end of 2006. And by last June, about 1.25 million trade unions had been set up in private firms in the country.

"Private firms, both foreign-funded and domestic, have to follow the country's laws. Forming a trade union is a worker's legal right," Sun said. The trade union law stipulates that a company with more than 25 employees has to have a trade union, and no organization or individual has the right to stop workers from joining unions.

Another important task of the ACFTU this year is to help unionize 10 million migrant workers in addition to the 60 million who already were union members by June 2007.

"Migrant workers should be the biggest group facilitating the formation of unions because they are the single largest workforce," Sun said, stressing that their rights are yet to be protected fully.

More than 60 percent workers in the industrial and service sectors are migrant workers. About 80 percent of the miners are ex-farmers, and 70 percent and 68 percent workers in the construction and manufacturing industries are from outside the places they work in.

The formation of more unions, however, hasn't stopped some employers from violating migrant workers' rights. The ACFTU found that many of the country's 200 million people who have left their homes to work elsewhere face three major problems: low pay, poor work safety conditions and inadequate social security.

The ACFTU, Sun said, is expecting 200 million workers to enroll as trade union members by July 2008, when the 15th National Congress of China's Trade Unions is scheduled for.

"Trade unions should maintain close links with workers, consolidate their unity and fight for their rights," she said.

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