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Unions Set Up for Guangdong Fast-food Workers
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Chen Xiaoxuan, a worker at a McDonald's outlet in Guangzhou, is going through the process of becoming a member of the company's newly established trade union.

"Hopefully, I'll become a member later this week," she said, adding that she hoped the union will play its role in protecting the interests of its members, including her.

Guangdong Sanyun McDonald's Co Ltd, which operates most of the McDonald's outlets in the province, recently set up the trade union, which will cover thousands of workers at 116 outlets. The union will be chaired by Feng Jiayu, a department manager.

The setting up of a union by the fast-food giant has aroused special attention from the public, as earlier this year, the company was bombarded for allegedly underpaying its part-time workers. The absence of a union was said to be one of the reasons why workers' rights were not adequately protected.

Kong Xianghong, vice-chairman of the Guangdong provincial trade union federation, said the foundation of the union was a positive move.

"The move reflects McDonald's respect for its employees' democracy and political rights," he said.

Kong said that an inter-regional committee of trade unions will be established for McDonald's, as its outlets are located far apart and staff numbers vary. It is not feasible to have a union branch for each outlet or in every city, he said.

The inter-regional committee of trade unions for foreign-funded companies will be the first of its kind in the province, and probably the country, he said.

However, Kong said the recent controversy over underpaying was not the reason for setting up the union.

"The provincial federation has been promoting the trade union organization to foreign-funded enterprises across the province since last year and several have since set them up," Kong said.

He said that more than 70 percent of the province's 36,200 foreign-funded companies had so far set up unions. Sixty-eight were set up last year, he said.

More than 200 of the 300-plus companies that are backed by some of the world's top multinationals had already set up unions in the province, he said.

Kong said that a further 10 percent of the foreign-funded companies in the province are expected to establish union branches by the end of the year.

The Guangdong branch of KFC (operated by Yum! Brands, Inc), which was also strongly criticized for underpaying its part-time workers, will set up its trade union by the end of next month, Kong said.

Like McDonald's, it will use an inter-regional committee to serve its widely spread workforce.

Peng Peng, director of the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, said that setting up trade unions will help the fast-food giants improve their image and labor-management relations.

"Trade unions, while protecting workers' rights and interests, can definitely improve labor-management relations," Peng said.

(China Daily May 29, 2007)

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