More protection for union leaders

By Cao Li (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-01-05 09:01

Shanghai -- The rights of trade union chairpersons here will be better protected following a new directive promulgated by the Shanghai Trade Union.

The measure states that if a chairperson with a record of performing his or her duties appropriately, is demoted, given a pay cut or transferred, a higher level trade union should order the company involved to rectify the situation or pay suitable compensation.

If the employer refuses to do so, the higher-level union should appeal to either the government department that supervises the company or the local labor department.

If the case requires mediation or goes to litigation, the union should provide support and bear all costs, the directive says.

If a chairperson chooses to quit following changes to a contract, the trade union should help him or her find a new job or additional training, as required. The union should also pay the individual concerned compensation equivalent to six months' salary.

In addition, in the event of a chairperson suffering injury or even death at work, the union should support the person or his or her family in filing lawsuits and seeking compensation.

Under the directive, the Shanghai Trade Union will set up a 2-million-yuan ($275,000) fund to finance such cases, and other trade union organizations are required to establish similar funds.

According to the law, companies with 25 or more employees can set up a trade union. Those with 200 or more can also stage an election to appoint a chairperson.

As of September, nearly 160,000 companies in Shanghai had established unions, of which, 15,200 are foreign-funded and 113,200 are privately owned.

All State-owned companies have trade unions.

Zhu Jia, an official with the Shanghai Trade Union, said the directive is a follow-up to a national circular calling for better protection of trade union officials.

Lu Jinbo, a lawyer specializing in labor disputes, said the directive is more of an encouragement to trade union officials to perform.

"I have handled very few cases involving trade union cadres suing their employers," he said. "But that doesn't mean everything is fine. Very few trade union officials dare to stand up for employees' rights, therefore they are seldom punished."

The country's trade union law includes only general guidelines for the protection of chairpersons, he said.

"This directive outlines much more detailed measures and it should encourage trade union officials to be braver in carrying out their duties."

Fan Xiayan, a union chairwoman at a foreign-funded automotive components company, said she doubted the directive would make any significant difference. "It is not even a law," she said.

Fan complained that she worked more as a coordinator between employer and employees.

"Trade union officials in China still have a long way to go before they have the authority to settle disputes between management and staff, as they do in Western countries," she said.

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