More workers engaged in disputes with their employers will get access to legal aid as a result of new guidelines issued by China's top trade union body.
According to the document, which was released on Monday by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), unions at county level or above will set up legal aid agencies to help workers resolve labor disputes with their employers.
The agencies will also help them safeguard personal and property rights related with the disputes.
Workers can apply for legal aid from the agencies even if they are not union members, Xie Liangmin, deputy director of the federation's law department, said.
However, they should be in "financial difficulties" in order to qualify for free legal aid.
At present, each province has different criteria to judge workers' financial situation. In some areas, people covered by minimum social security can qualify for legal aid.
The document also stipulates that workers who do not meet the criteria can still apply for legal aid if their rights are "seriously" violated.
Rural migrant workers who have problems in getting payments or compensation for occupational injuries from their bosses are qualified to receive free legal aid regardless of their financial situation.
"Many workers don't have adequate knowledge of laws and are often discouraged by lengthy legal procedures," Xie said.
"Legal aid agencies will do their best to help the workers use legal weapons to safeguard their rights and interests."
According to statistics provided by the ACFTU, trade unions in China had established 6,178 legal aid agencies by the end of last year, in which they accepted 46,000 cases involving lawsuits and helped to solve 29,000 of them.
"Trade unions started to offer legal aid in 1992," he said.
"The new document will guarantee the status and funding of legal aid agencies."
Chu Junhua, a lawyer with the Beijing Workers' Aid Center, said the number of workers applying for legal aid has increased sharply in recent years.
(China Daily August 16, 2008)