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China Builds Migrant Worker Trade Unions in Cities

China is introducing community-based trade unions as a new tool for the protection of migrant workers and laid-off workers.


"They have appeared as a new method for migrant workers to fuse into urban life," trade unions workers said.


As a result of the recent city economic reform and the function change of city governments, city management and service has gradually shifted to communities. The army of community service and construction workers has also grown rapidly.


Most are migrant workers from across the country and some laid-off or retired workers.


Statistics show 92 million farmers have left their home villages and now work in cities as industrial laborers. The number exceeds that of the total of workers from state and collective enterprises.


But migrant workers' interests and rights are vulnerable to infringement because they are badly organized and the government cannot offer them protection, analysts said.


Many suffer bad working and living conditions, hard workloads, low pay, delayed disease treatment and poor education.


According to China's trade union laws, workers have the right to set up or join trade unions irrespective of their employers, gender, nationality, race, religious belief and education.


But the fact is that most migrant workers work in small groups and scatter in non-state enterprises, and as a result, are often out of the reach of trade unions.


To solve the problem, some cities, including Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province, have invented community trade unions.


"We began setting up community trade unions years ago. But their members and services were simply limited to sanitary workers, individual operators and members of community committees. With the rapid development of private enterprises, we altered our methods to attract migrant workers into the unions," said Chen Siming, head of Nanjing's general trade union.


With the help of the unions, all the city's communities have signed contracts with their service employees, mostly migrant workers. The community unions also concluded collective labor contracts with private employers on behalf of migrant workers.


Policy and legal framework, children's education, and employment information are also within the scope of the community trade unions, said Chen.


"Joining community trade unions is a sign they have changed from a farmer to an urban citizen, a big dream for many of them," said Chen, "they will more likely view themselves as members of the city."


Beijing began creating community trade unions in 2000. By late 2002, its Dongcheng district has established such unions in all its 109 communities and increasing numbers of migrant workers want to join, said Zheng Jianhua, head of the district's trade union.


Statistics from the All-China Federation of Trade Unions show both the number and scale of community trade unions across the country are increasing, and some major cities have set up networks of community trade unions.


(Xinhua News Agency October 8, 2003)


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