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Overseas Firms Boost Number of Trade Unions
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Overseas-funded ventures in Shanghai are hosting an increasing number of trade unions and the trend is expected to continue, according to experts.


About 6,209, or 32 percent, of the 19,600 companies funded from overseas in Shanghai had set up unions by the end of last year.


Among these, 1,479 unions were established in 2005 alone, according to Liu Weixin, deputy chief of the organization department of Shanghai Municipal Trade Union Council (SMTUC).


He predicted the growth this year to be equally strong.


"More overseas investors have begun to understand the nature of Chinese trade unions, which will be a win-win situation for both employees and employers," Liu said.


He added that for a long time, many overseas investors did not quite understand Chinese trade unions, which can differ from those in their home countries.


While unions in China and abroad have the same goals in protecting the rights and interest of employees, Chinese unions advocate common development for both workers and companies.


"Their purpose is not to intensify labor disputes, but to stabilize and smooth the labor relationship," Liu said.


He cited examples of unions helping defend the rights of workers in some local ventures in wages and labor contracts, but said many activities were aimed at helping both the employees and employers.


According to Liu, many unions invite proposals from workers to improve work efficiency. They arrange skill contests to help improve the performance of workers. Safety checks and education programs conducted by unions help protect workers and also help reduce possible losses for employers.


The SMTUC and its branches have stepped up publicity among overseas-funded ventures since last year.


The Shanghai Municipal Foreign Investment Commission, the government overseer of foreign investment, has also promoted trade unions.


Liu said the annual nationwide check of trade unions by delegations from the National People's Congress has greatly helped their work.


Portman Ritz Carlton, a five-star hotel in the city, was one of the latest to establish a trade union about one month ago after many years without one.


"I am very pleased to see the establishment of the union in the hotel, and the management will support the union in carrying out its work," said Grippo Ralph, general manager of the hotel, as quoted on the SMTUC website from the hotel union's first meeting.


But Liu also admitted that there are overseas companies that are less supportive of unions.


SMTUC is talking to companies like Wal-Mart about union issues. The US retailing giant and a number of other overseas-funded companies have reportedly been singled out by National People's Congress leaders for resisting trade unions.


Trade unions, which are set up voluntarily by employees, are protected under China's Trade Union Law.


(China Daily February 17, 2006)

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