Qiao Hao, a trade union leader at a foreign-funded high-tech company in Shanghai, uses three phrases to describe trade unions in China.
"A communication channel, a legal requirement, and cooperation between employers and employees, " said Qiao, who is also an IT manager in his company.
"Particularly during times of crisis like a mass layoff, the trade union is an important communication channel," said Qiao, who is attending the ongoing 16th national congress of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) here.
Four years ago, Qiao's company relocated one of its plant from Shanghai to an inland city in western China during the global financial crisis, to reduce costs. The closure of the Shanghai plant affected more than 1,000 workers.
"After receiving the official layoff notice, the trade union started to act," recalled Qiao, who declined to name his company. "We collected opinions from employees about compensation and talked with the company about the package."
"To ensure global supply, our company needed the Shanghai plant to run normally before the new plant was put into operation. That was our leverage in the bargaining," said Qiao.
Through their efforts, the Shanghai plant ran smoothly during the relocation and the laid-off employees were compensated by more than the initial package, said Qiao. "It is a win-win solution for the company and employees," said Qiao, who reckons it is very important to recognize the difference between Chinese and foreign trade unions.
Trade unions in China advocate harmonious relationships and are committed to communication between employees and employers. China has the most trade union members in the world, with memberships totaling 280 million by June, 2013. Nearly one out of every five Chinese is a member of a trade union.
Among Global 500 companies based in China, 91.9 percent have now established trade unions. Besides coordinating labor relations, trade unions help companies build a corporate culture and carry out activities such as games, lectures and seminars to help employees relieve work pressure and do a better job.
Wen Hua, vice president of the federation of trade unions in foreign enterprises in Beijing, said unions put a lot of effort into entertainments and sports.
"Often, unions of several companies organize activities together. In this way, our employees can get to make new friends," said Wen."It can also be a way of finding Mr. and Mrs. Right for our single employees," said Wen.
Most of employees in foreign companies work in a fast-paced environment, leaving them limited time to party and meet friends. Most of them are not Beijing locals, so parents and relatives cannot help much in setting up blind dates."If we can help our employees find true love, they will perform better in their work and that is what the company wants as well," said Wen.
At the ongoing national congress, the ACFTU has called on unions to play a greater role in safeguarding the rights and interests of the working class, and provide them with a comfortable environment.
Wen said Chinese workers are important in the economic miracle, yet are still faced a wide variety of challenges, including salaries, hours, rest and leave, safety and health, insurance and benefits.
Chinese trade unions have a lot to do to create a harmonious working environment, and make employees feel truly happy in their work, said Wen.