August 31st, 2010 | Global Times Drive to give trade unions stronger role
Authorities are taking steps to strengthen the role that trade unions play and address criticism they’re a “rubber-stamp,” amid concerns that mounting labor disputes could snowball into a major social crisis.
“By 2012, more than 90 percent of enterprises in China should have established trade unions,” Wang Yupu, vice-chairperson of the All-China Federation of Trade Union (ACFTU), said at a meeting Monday, adding that 55.8 percent of all enterprises had unions in 2009.
Problems were found mainly in privately owned companies, which accounted for 80 percent of all enterprises, Wang noted.
Su Hainan, director of the Labor and Wage Institute at the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, noted that the lack of trade unions in medium and small-sized enterprises is just one problem, and the more serious matter involves existing trade unions that perform practically no function.
“Amid the series of suicides at Foxconn Technology Group and the constant strikes at Honda Motor from May to July, workers did not resort to the trade unions as they are believed to represent the interests of employers, instead of employees,” Su added.
ACFTU, led by the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, is now trying to confront the credibility issue. A regulation proposed by the organization in July stipulated that by next year, trade union staffers at industries across the country must be paid by senior trade unions, instead of by the employers.
The pilot projects were carried out in 10 regions including Beijing. The Beijing Federations of Trade Union (BFTU) is planning to boost the independence of the chairman of trade unions by paying them from a special fund.
“The chairmen of trade unions at the primary level are paid by enterprises. If you are not obedient, the enterprise could break the contract with you,” a chief at BFTU told the Global Times Monday, adding that this conflict of interest makes it difficult for them to help workers, especially at private firms.
Su said other issues must be addressed. “It is very likely that enterprises could bribe the trade union chief to speak for the company’s interest.”
He suggested that the leader of a trade union should be paid through fees collected from workers in order to foster a stronger sense of independence.
Sherry Yan, assistant professor of economics at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, argued that China should learn from western labor unions.
For example, most union chiefs in the US are paid from fees collected from workers and many leaders don’t work for the enterprises but just workers.
Feng Yujun, a law professor at Peking University, said most migrant workers are not educated and face a disadvantage during labor disputes.
On July 6, BFTU announced that a collective bargaining system would be created in 10 key regions and industries.