Trade unions to target migrant workers

By Guan Xiaofeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-02-02 07:12

The All-China Federation of Trade Unions wants to recruit more than 10 million rural migrant workers as trade union members this year, an official said yesterday.

"Only by absorbing more migrant workers into trade unions can we better protect their rights and interests in a legal and orderly way," said Chen Ruiguo, an official with the federation's Grass-Roots Organization and Capacity Building Department.

Chen said that because trade unions had not been effective enough in organizing, workers in certain areas had reacted to violations of their labor rights in disorderly and radical ways.

Chen said 41 million migrant workers had joined trade unions by the end of last year, and that the federation's ultimate goal was to attract "the largest number of migrant workers possible" into trade unions.

To make trade unions more accessible to migrant workers, the federation is planning to allow more flexibility in what constitutes a union.

For instance, migrant workers working in small enterprises in the same neighborhood can collectively form "street or community trade unions". In the past, workers at each enterprise had to form their own trade unions.

The federation has also simplified membership procedures, Chen said.

For example, the changes make it easier for migrant workers to transfer to unions at different locations using just a membership card.

Under the old rules, workers would have to ask their former employers to write letters of introduction for them before they could join a new union.

Chen said the trade union federations in different places had drawn up favorable policies to attract more migrant workers.

In some places, migrant workers can use their union cards to receive discounts at chain shops, cinemas, parks, barbers' shops, libraries, hospitals and aboard buses.

In the coastal city of Quanzhou, in East China's Fujian Province, migrant workers who stay in the city during Spring Festival will receive free entry to its parks and scenic spots.

They can also access legal advice to help them safeguard their rights and interests, for example, in recovering delayed wages.

According to the federation, trade unions around the country had established 3,856 legal aid organizations to help workers by the end of 2005.

"The federation will spare no effort to protect the rights and interests of migrant workers, who have become an important part of the Chinese working class," Chen said.

According to statistics provided by the State Council last year, there are more than 200 million rural migrant workers in China.

Most of them are employed in "tough industries", such as construction, coalmining, shipbuilding and restaurants.

Chen said migrant workers were underrepresented in terms of trade union membership, and still had a long way to go.

Chen said another major task for the federation this year is to establish more trade unions in non-public enterprises.

Chen said some employers are reluctant to establish trade unions in their enterprises because they begrudge having to spend money on funding trade union activities, which is required by the Trade Union Law.

"They have no excuses because they must abide by the law," Chen said.

According to the latest statistics gathered by the federation, China is home to 1.174 grassroots trade unions, with 151 million members.

(China Daily 02/02/2007 page3)

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