Employees in China can establish labor unions without the approval of the employer, the country’s trade union watchdog confirmed on Tuesday.
"It’s necessary to hold discussions with the enterprises and try to win their support but that doesn't mean workers can't set up labor unions without their employers' approval," Guo Wencai, a director responsible for union establishment with the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), told Xinhua.
On December 31, 2006, a labor union was set up at the IT company Foxcoon's Shenzhen plant, where iPods are assembled, without management permission. Foxcoon, the largest Taiwan-invested company on the Chinese mainland, has at least 200,000 workers but had refused to establish a labor union after years of negotiations.
The local union federation sent five officials to organize the plant’s trade union and local media reported that no representative from the company's management attended the inaugural meeting. "The success was a breakthrough in our work and demonstrated the power of the law, which must be followed by all enterprises in China, no matter where the investors come from," said Guo.
The law allows a trade union to be formed in any domestic enterprise with 25 or more workers and doesn't require approval from the employer. About 300,000 foreign-funded enterprises registered in China directly employ more than 25 million people. This is over 10 percent of the urban employed. But only about 40 percent of those enterprises had trade unions by last October, ACFTU figures show.
Wal-Mart, which has been widely criticized by human rights groups and labor organizations for not allowing trade unions in its stores, founded its first trade union at its outlet in Jinjiang City, east China's Fujian Province on July 29.
All 62 Wal-Mart outlets in China had set up trade unions with more than 6,000 members by the end of September, while KFC, McDonald's, Roche, Pepsi, French bank BNP and Kodak all followed suit. The ACFTU has said it’ll build on the Wal-Mart success to promote trade unions in the world's top 500 transnational companies in the country.
Public calls for a labor union in the Shenzhen subsidiary of Foxcoon, the Hongfujin Precision Industry Co., erupted after a newspaper reported last June that many of the plant's workers had to work standing up for 12 hours a day. This had caused some to faint from fatigue.
In early July the two journalists who wrote the report were sued by Foxcoon for 30 million yuan (US$3.75 million). This was the first such defamation case in China against individual reporters rather than media organizations. Foxcoon dropped the lawsuit in September.
(Xinhua News Agency January 17, 2007)