70% target for unions in foreign firms

By Guan Xiaofeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-01-05 07:20

The All-China Federation of Trade Unions has set an ambitious target of having trade unions set up in more than 70 per cent of foreign-funded enterprises this year.

Wang Ying, an official with the federation's Grass-Root Organization and Capacity Building Department, said more than 60 per cent of foreign-funded firms had set up trade unions by the end of last year, a sharp increase from 2005.

The establishment of unions in Wal-Mart has given a big impetus to many other foreign enterprises, Wang said.

Employees in some multinationals such as Carrefour, McDonald's, Motorola and Nescafe soon followed suit.

Between July and September, all the 64 Wal-Mart stores in 30 cities established trade unions with the help of the federation, recruiting more than 6,000 members.

It is for the first time the US retail giant allowed its staff to form unions anywhere in the world.

"China's Law of Trade Union gives workers the rights to set up or join trade unions," Wang said. "Foreign enterprises must abide by China's laws if they do business in China."

According to the law, which was promulgated in 1992, trade unions are formed by employees on a voluntary basis. No organization or individual shall obstruct or restrict them from joining unions.

Wang admitted the federation has met with resistance from some companies, which subtly obstruct workers from setting up unions.

"Many of the foreign enterprises do not fully understand the role of China's trade unions," Wang said.

They not only safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of workers but also contribute to the enterprises' development and fulfil their production tasks, he pointed out.

"Trade unions can play a good role in building and ensuring harmony in enterprises," Wang said, saying some companies which were long opposed to unions have now changed their attitude.

Wang said unions in foreign enterprises have performed their duties.

For example, the Wal-Mart unions in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian Province, succeeded in persuading the management to raise part-time workers' wages to 6 yuan (75 cents) per hour, above the lowest wage standard, 5.5 yuan (69 cents).

The stores also agreed to abolish the probation period for part-time workers.

The Wal-Mart union in Shenyang, capital of Liaoning Province, successfully negotiated the right one day off a week.

Dong Yuguo, a spokesman for Wal-Mart (China), said: "The management and the trade union have been getting along with each other very well," Dong said.

"Our task is to raise workers' awareness and let them know that joining trade unions is the best way to safeguard their legitimate rights and interests," Wang said.

At the end of 2005, China had 1.174 million grass-root trade unions, with 151 million members.

(China Daily 01/05/2007 page3)

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