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ACFTU Down Path of Building Trade Unions with Chinese Characteristics

After being a sweeper for most of her working life, entering the Great Hall of the People proved quite a change of routine for Fan Xiping.

The 48-year-old from Lanzhou, capital of the northwestern Gansu Province, was in Beijing to attend the ongoing 15th national congress of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU).

Having swept roads for more than 20 years, Fan was now among 47 representatives of the country's massive migrant workforce for the congress.

Most are employed in the manufacturing, construction, urban sanitation and restaurant sectors.

To safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the 210 million farmers-turned-migrant workers has become a new mission of trade unions nationwide.

According to ACFTU chairman Wang Zhaoguo, top priority has been given to the task.

"When I went into the Great Hall of the People, I was so excited. In the past, I did not know who I could rely on when facing difficulties," Fan said. "Now I hope I can speak for migrant workers like myself on the platform provided by the congress."

"My biggest dream is to own a home. I hope work safety will be ensured for me when I sweep roads every day and that I can get a pension after I am retired."

The large population of migrant workers, of them about 66 million are now members of the federation, has become one of the Chinese characteristics in the country's urbanization and unionization process.

Wang said in his working report on Friday when the congress opened trade unions nationwide should search for a path of strengthening the organizations with Chinese characteristics.

In his report, the concept of "trade unions with Chinese characteristics" embraced the principles of sticking to the leadership of the Communist Party of China over the unions, as well as to putting the workers first and protecting their rights and interests in line with laws and in a scientific manner.

Over the past five years, unions nationwide helped win back more than 43 billion yuan (about US$6.3 billion) in delayed payment owed to migrant workers, according to Sun Chunlan, ACFTU vice-chairwoman.

Currently, unions provide free legal advice to workers nationwide via a network of 6,178 legal aid agencies, which had handled more than 29,000 labor dispute cases through 2007.

Sun said unions had established 2,761 job agencies across the country and found employment, completely free of charge, for 7.1 million people, through last year.

They had also built 2,924 vocational training agencies and helped 3.4 million laid-off workers find new jobs, she added.

In the eyes of Han Xingwang, a 54-year-old owner of a private business in Xunhua Salar Autonomous County of the northwestern province of Qinghai, a trade union is not only the "protector" of employees' legitimate rights and interests, but also a "driving force" behind the development of an enterprise.

To better solve labor disputes, Han has introduced trade-union leaders into his board of directors.

"When my business unionized two decades ago, I did not know if it could make any differences in the enterprise. But it has justified my decision," said Han, who is also attending the congress.

In pursuit of harmonious labor relations is another requirement of building trade unions with Chinese characteristics.

Helping employees with multinationals in China to safeguard their legitimate rights and interests is also important work of the unions.

A Walmart store in the northeastern city of Shenyang had employers and employees reach agreements on monthly pay for grassroot workers on July 14. Another 108 unionized Walmart stores across the country followed suit in the ensuing two months.

Wang Yayun, union head of a Walmart store in Jinjiang of the southeastern Fujian Province, said her union would strive for better employee welfare in the next year, such as establishing a kindergarten for the workers.

The congress, which is attended by more than 1,600 representatives across the country, runs until Tuesday.

(Xinhua News Agency October 19, 2008)

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