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Federation Gives Unions a Boost

Chen Mei'er, a woman in her 50s, has spent the last couple of days preparing to launch a major trade union campaign at construction sites across this city's Liwan District.

Even as she monitors the daily work of the new trade unions at 14 construction sites in the district, she has been preparing to set up unions at another 16 sites in the very near future.

Chen, a former chairperson of a street trade union, was elected the first chairperson of the district's construction site trade union federation late last week.

With that vote, she became the first professional trade union chairperson in Guangzhou, and quite possibly the first in China.

Unlike other trade union chairpersons, who are paid by the institutions or companies for which they work, Chen is paid directly by the Guangzhou federation of trade unions.

"I don't need to bow to the heads of the labor contractors of the construction sites. What I will do is turn the trade union federation into a kind of home for the members," she said.

She said her federation will protect the interests and rights of the builders, most of whom are farmers-turned migrant workers and are in a comparatively weak position when it comes to labor disputes.

She said the federation is considering changing the payment terms of its members' labor contracts to limit the possibility of arrears payments or lost back pay.

She said the federation will also do its bit to help improve the working, training and living conditions for its members.

"We hope the first construction site trade union federation in Liwan District will serve as an example for other districts in the city," said Chen Weiguang, chairman of the Guangzhou municipal federation of trade unions.

"A municipal-level trade union federation of construction sites will be founded by the end of October and more than 80 percent of the builders are expected to join the trade unions," Chen Weiguang said.

Guangzhou has more than 2,000 construction sites and about 400,000 builders, official statistics indicate.

Peng Peng, a researcher with the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, is optimistic about the federation, saying the move marks a big step forward for the reform of Guangzhou's trade union system, not to mention the system in Guangdong and even in the nation as a whole.

"If the federation works well, many industrial trade unions could follow suit," Peng said.

(China Daily August 15, 2007)

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