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Trade Unions Mushroom in New Enterprises
The legal rights of workers in newly established enterprises are better protected than ever, according to the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU).

More than 510,000 trade union branches were established in such enterprises last year, and a federation official said that the federation aims to establish union branches in places "wherever there are workers."

"We plan to increase the number of trade union branches in newly established enterprises to 1 million by the end of this year, with 36 million members," Wang Ying, a division official in charge of setting up branches, told China Daily in an interview.

Unions are essential to protecting the interests and rights of workers and smoothing labor-management relations, and the number of trade unions should be increased particularly in non-State-owned enterprises, said Wang.

Most owners of foreign-funded enterprises can abide by China's laws and regulations and encourage their employees to join unions, according to Wang.

By the end of 2001, workers at about 40 percent of such enterprises in China had set up union branches and 54.7 percent of Chinese and foreign employees had become union members, ACFTU statistics indicate.

"And workers need unions more than ever to represent and protect their interests, and trade unions are helpful to enterprises," said Wang.

Wang said more work needs to be done among foreign investors to educate them about China's trade unions.

Wang said that increasing membership in trade unions is crucial to mobilizing workers to contribute to the country's reform and development.

But Wang said since the 1990s, as reform has progressed, some State and collectively owned firms have eliminated or merged trade unions. And most private firms, share-holding companies and other overseas-funded ventures have yet to host unions.

As a result, from 1995 to 1999, trade union membership dropped by more than 17 million.

By the end of 1999, only one-third of employees of foreign-funded ventures and Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan-funded companies had joined trade unions.

In the private sector, only one-sixth of workers were union members. In township enterprises, one-seventh of workers were unionized, according to federation statistics. The weak role of trade unions has partly contributed to the increase in court cases on workers' rights in recent years, Wang said.

Offering an example, Wang said a huge number of farmers have migrated to urban areas to work mostly in non-State-owned enterprises.

Far away from their homes, and in most cases without legal contracts or trade union protection, these workers are vulnerable to abuse and personal injury in the workplace.

Trade unions have assumed the responsibility of speaking for the workers and seeking fair solutions for them, Wang said.

(China Daily August 12, 2002)

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