Three new rules were mapped out at the end of October by the
All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), a mass
organization formed by Chinese workers, to protect the rights and
interests of employees in private or joint-venture (JV)
The first rule strengthens support for workers who wish to
establish trade unions at their workplaces. In collaboration with
local governments, the ACFTU will establish dossiers on those
companies that have not set up trade unions and will assign
staffers to help the employees to do so. Companies that refuse to
allow unionization will be sued.
Second, all migrant workers will be encouraged to join trade
unions. Under China's labor laws, all employees may establish or
join trade unions regardless of where they are from or how long
they have been employed. The ACFTU says that where there are
workers, there should be trade unions.
The last rule is part of the effort to end the problem of
withholding or nonpayment of wages. The ACFTU suggests developing
payment consultation and credit systems in enterprises. These would
give workers equal bargaining rights with management to negotiate
payment affairs and would enable workers and management to reach
consensus on the issue before labor contracts are signed.
Within a month after going into effect, the new rules began to
Under pressure from the ACFTU, Wal-Mart Stores -- the world's
biggest retailer and an employer that is infamous for blocking the
establishment of unions at its outlets worldwide -- announced on
November 23 that it would permit union branches in its Chinese
Wal-Mart has 20,000 employees in more than 40 outlets scattered
through 18 Chinese cities. None of the outlets has established a
trade union since the company entered China in 1996.
Other foreign-owned operations, like the Kodak, Samsung, Dell,
McDonalds and KFC, all have been found to have no trade unions in
their Chinese branches.
Ideally, the market economy should allow everyone to win.
Entrepreneurs can make profits. Workers can get paid acceptable
wages on time. Consumers can have good-quality, reasonably priced
products and services. Governments can gain tax revenues.
But in China, the interests of migrant workers and employees of
private enterprises are often neglected. Many large-scale private
enterprises, including some of the world's leading corporations,
find excuses to refuse to set up trade unions.
Presently, only 1.1 million trade unions are operating in
private enterprises in China, just 30.7 percent of the total, and
only 36 million people have joined. Moreover, the country has
around 100 million migrant workers, virtually none of whom belong
to a union.
Some local governments maintain silence over illegal suppression
of union organization by companies because they want to attract
more investment to promote the local economy. Workers become the
victims, instead of the beneficiaries, of economic growth.
But when the interests of workers are neglected too long, the
problem can no longer be swept under the rug. In 2003, 41.7 billion
yuan (US$5.0 billion) in late wages was owed to 8.5 million
workers. Some were driven to extremes in an attempt to obtain their
money, making the extent of the discontent known to companies and
In desperation and with no strong, organized support, the
workers felt they had to take risks to exercise their legal
The ACFTU's new rules are bound to have far-reaching
implications for the functioning of trade unions. Chinese workers,
especially the 100 million migrant workers, will find effective
channels to maintain their rights.
(China.org.cn by Unisumoon, December 2, 2004)