BEIJING - China will promote the direct election of grassroots trade union leaders to ensure employees' rights are better protected, a senior official said on Monday.
Many union leaders are currently appointed - and paid by - the companies whose workers they are hired to protect.
"Democratic election is a key standard to measure the effectiveness of a trade union," said Guo Wencai, director general of the grassroots organization and capacity building department under the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU).
Guo said the ACFTU hopes to end the practice of companies appointing union leaders or assigning someone from their human resources department to act as union leader, because it hampers a trade union's independence and its ability to protect workers' rights.
China tested direct election of union leaders in coastal areas several years ago.
In Shanghai's Xuhui district, a pioneer in the trial, direct election of trade union leaders covers 79 percent of the district's grassroots organizations, according to Shanghai-based Labor Daily.
Direct election of union leaders will be extended step by step, Guo said.
To stand for election, members of a trade union recommend themselves or others, and after an initial presentation, the trade union's federation determines the official candidates. After that, leaders can be elected after a vote by all union members.
The ACFTU is also promoting the idea of union federations hiring and training leaders and sending them to companies. The chairman and vice-chairman of the trade union would then be elected by employees.
But leaders elected this way would not be paid by the companies, but from the federation, officials said.
Beijing will also soon embrace such union leaders, the Beijing News reported on Monday.
"Since he is paid by a company, if a trade union chairman doesn't satisfy the employer, he might be fired," the report said, quoting an official from the Beijing municipal federation of trade unions.
Since union leaders are paid by companies, many trade unions are not able to protect workers' rights, the official said.
Yang Yansui, a labor expert with Tsinghua University, hailed the move and said its benefits go beyond the mere economic independence of trade union leaders.
"A trade union leader hired from outside (the union) may have stronger sense of social responsibility and could possess some professional background such as law, finance or management. That expertise would be good for effective collective negotiations with bosses," Yang said.
But Yang said union leaders should know not only how to protect employees' rights during disputes, but also be familiar with the company's operations and development plan.
A trade union leader who simply knows how to fight an employer could put the company in an adverse situation, and thus not benefit employees, she said.
In a related development, Wang Yupu, ACFTU vice-chairperson, said on Monday that in two years all trade unions nationwide would carry out collective negotiations on wages.
Leaders of some grassroots organizations lack the knowledge of collective bargaining and local trade unions should be responsible for training them, too, he said.
About 80 percent of enterprises in China are privately run or foreign owned, according to Wang, who said trade unions must protect the interests of migrant workers.
At the end of last year, the country had 1.84 million grassroots level trade unions with 226 million members, according to ACFTU figures.