On April 28, one of China's largest steel companies, Panzhihua Iron & Steel Group Company in southwest China's Sichuan Province, decided to introduce elections for trade union chairpeople in May, replacing the nomination procedure.
East China's Shanghai Telecom trade unions in four substations and 1,200 grassroots trade unions in central China's Shanxi Province also recently announced that they would conduct similar elections.
"Election of trade union leaders indicates another significant step in building grassroots democracy," said sociologist Lu Xueyi from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, citing the mass election of village leaders already implemented in rural areas.
The elections will be held by grassroots member conferences or member representatives' conferences, as opposed to nomination by trade union committees as before.
In many provinces and municipalities including Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang, Shanghai and Shandong, the election of grassroots trade union chairpeople is becoming popular. Thousands of grassroots trade unions have elected their own leaders, according to the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU)'s website.
The changes aim to build greater trust and confidence among employees in their union officials' ability to represent them and protect their rights.
In the planned economy of the 1970s and 1980s, the government decided workers' conditions and salaries, leaving little work for trade unions.
They were left delivering film tickets or organizing outdoor events or other trivial matters. People tended to regard trade union chairpeople as managerial personnel.
With the implementation of a market economy in recent years, state companies, private companies and joint ventures have seen more complex relationships develop between employers and employees.
How to better protect employees' rights has become a great challenge for today's trade unions, and elections reinforce trade union chairpeople's role as true representatives, said Chen Shengyong, a professor at Zhejiang University.
In a survey he conducted in the Yuhang District of Hangzhou, about half of 900 local trade unions adopted elections for chairpeople. Ninety-five percent of trade union members said they were "satisfied" or "almost satisfied" with the chairpeople elected.
"Elections set a key direction for grassroots trade unions in China," said Guang Huai from the ACFTU.
"The ACFTU is collecting experiences from local trade unions' elections to introduce regulations on specific issues such as election procedures and ranges," he said.
(Xinhua News Agency May 9, 2005)