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Foreign firms urged to allow trade unions
By He Na (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-10-26 01:24

A leading trade unionist Monday called on foreign and private enterprises in China to allow their employees the legal right to establish union organizations.

Guo Jun, the deputy director of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) Legislative Affairs Bureau, made the call after the Legal Daily newspaper reported that many private and foreign firms were denying their employees' rights to set up trade unions.

"All enterprises investing in China should abide by the Trade Union Law on setting up trade union organizations," stressed Guo.

Many famous multinational companies operating in China, such as Walmart, Kodak, Dell and Samsung, do not allow trade unions to be established.

There were 743,000 private enterprises in China with 25 million employees by the end of last year, according to a survey released by the ACFTU.

However, the number of trade unions does not match the growing number of employees.

Trade union officials have met obstacles when trying to set up union organizations at these firms.

According to Legal Daily, Wal-Mart, the world's largest supermarket chain, has 19,000 Chinese employees at 37 stores in 18 big cities across China, such as Beijing, Shenzhen, Dalian and Kunming, but no trade union organizations. The local branches of Wal-Mart have worked hard to stop the establishment of trade unions when officials from municipal trade union bodies in Shenzhen, Dalian and Kunming contacted them.

Wal-Mart has no trade unions at any of its global affiliates.

The Shenzhen Municipal Trade Union pointed out that it was very difficult to contact Wal-Mart's China headquarters, which always used the excuse that managers were absent.

Random interviews showed that some Wal-Mart employees have a vague idea of what a trade union is. Therefore they do not have a strong desire to establish a trade union.

Huang Mingrui, who worked at the Jilin Wal-Mart Qianjin branch for more than two years, said that Wal-Mart annually convenes a "grass-roots meeting." All employees are encouraged to attend the meeting, where they write down suggestions and demands on an anonymous questionnaire.

After the meeting, the questionnaires are sent directly to the headquarters of Wal-Mart."

"Some of the demands we made were later met," she added.

Most Wal-Mart employees are satisfied with the welfare services provided by the company," she added.

Between 30 to 50 per cent of migrant workers are willing to organize trade unions, although only 20 per cent have a vague idea of what trade unions mean and 30 per cent said they will establish a union if their bosses agree, according to an ACFTU survey of migrant workers.

The ACFTU plans to popularize trade unions among workers to raise their awareness of protecting their rights by forming an organization of their own.

ACFTU official Yang Honglin said trade unions should assume the responsibility of speaking out on behalf of workers and seek the best solutions for them.

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