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Trade Unions Needed to Protect Workers

Unionists are complaining that many private and foreign companies across China have deprived employees of their rights to set up trade unions.


The allegations come from an investigation conducted by the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), which says unions are needed to play an increasing role in protecting workers' legal rights.


"Basically, the companies are infringing on workers' freedom of association which is entitled by the Constitution," Jiang Nan, division director with ACFTU told China Daily.


The situation has aroused concerns from China's top legislative body. In September, a national campaign will be organized by National People's Congress (NPC) to find the implementation of an amended trade union law. The law took effect in 2001.


"Trade unions have assumed the responsibility of speaking out for the workers and seeking fair solutions for them," said Wang Zhaoguo, vice-chairman of the NPC's Standing Committee. "We should punish those who have prevented establishment of trade unions in line with the law."


The law requires that an enterprise, organization or institution which employs more than 25 people could allow a trade union.


And the trade unions at higher levels are authorized to send union officials to enterprises and help them establish trade unions, and the enterprises have no right to interfere in the process, the law indicates.


"But parts of such companies, especially the branch operations of transnational companies, have refused to set up trade unions," said Jiang.


The United States-based leading international retailer Wal-Mart was once again criticized by ACFTU because it refused to allow the establishment of unions in its Chinese branch operations.


"We've made increased efforts for several years but have failed," said Jiang, adding that the company failed to set up stores in Shanghai simply because the multinational company insisted on not forming trade unions.


Jiang said some owners of foreign-funded enterprises do abide by China's laws and regulations and encourage their employees to join unions.


But she also said more work needs to be done to inform foreign investors about China's laws regarding trade unions.


The latest ACFTU statistics indicate that China has 400,000 foreign companies, but only one-fifth have set up trade unions. About 40 percent of 2 million private enterprises have set up trade unions.


"And workers need unions more than ever to represent and protect their interests," said Jiang.


Guan Binfeng, another ACFTU division director, said infringement of employee's legal rights do take place in foreign and private companies without trade unions.


A survey conducted by the provincial Department of Labour and Social Security at China's economic power house Guangdong revealed that 85 percent of about 26 million migrant workers in the province have to work for 10 to 14 hours every day and nearly half of them have no rest day, and most of them are not paid for overtime work.


The Chinese Government has stipulated that the maximum working day is eight hours and that the working week should not exceed 40 hours. Employers must double or triple wages paid for extra hours.


Unions are essential to protecting the interests and rights of workers and resolving worker-management relations, and the number of trade unions should be increased particularly in non-state-owned enterprises, said Guan.


(China Daily August 31, 2004)


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