Guo Jun, the deputy director of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) Legislative Affairs Bureau, called on foreign and private enterprises in China to respect their employees' legal right to establish trade unions.
He made the call after the Legal Daily newspaper reported that many private and foreign firms ban employees from unionizing. "All enterprises investing in China should abide by Trade Union Law," said Guo.
Many well-known multinationals operating in China, such as Wal-Mart, Kodak, Dell and Samsung, do not allow unions to be established amongst their workforces.
According to a survey released by the ACFTU, there were 743,000 private enterprises in China with 25 million employees by the end of last year. However, the number of trade unions does not match the growing number of employees.
The Legal Daily reports that Wal-Mart, the world's largest supermarket chain, has 19,000 Chinese employees at 37 stores in 18 cities across China including Beijing, Shenzhen, Dalian and Kunming, but no trade union organizations.
Wal-Mart has no trade unions at any of its global affiliates and local branches in China have worked hard to stop the establishment of unions. The Shenzhen Municipal Trade Union has been unable to even contact Wal-Mart's China headquarters, where managers are apparently always absent when they call.
Random interviews showed that many Wal-Mart employees only have a vague idea of what a trade union is or how it could benefit them.
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 and write down suggestions on anonymous questionnaires that are then sent to the company's headquarters.
"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."
Between 30 and 50 percent of migrant workers would like to organize trade unions, although 20 percent have only a vague idea of what they are and 30 percent said they would establish one if their bosses agreed, according to an ACFTU survey.
The ACFTU plans to popularize trade unions among workers and to raise awareness of the benefits of organizing 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.
(China Daily October 26, 2004)