With assistance from growing numbers of legal service volunteers, Chinese trade unions have made great efforts to provide legal aid and rights protection services to workers and have played an important role in safeguarding workers's legitimate rights and interests and fostering harmonious labour relations.
The first provincial trade union legal team was established in Guangdong province. Later, volunteer teams were created in most provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities), including Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Hubei, Hunan, Chongqing, Anhui, Fujian, Sichuan and Xinjiang. Except for some provinces in midwestern China, most trade unions at city or even county level have now set up legal service volunteer teams. City and county trade unions in Jiangsu province, for example, can call on a total of 55 legal aid teams deploying 538 non-government lawyers. Volunteer team members mainly come from local legal firms, colleges and universities and other social organizations. They volunteer to provide workers with legal aid and training, help them to solve labour disputes and protect their legitimate rights and interests. "The legal protection umbrella" thus offered to enterprise employees and migrant workers whose rights and interests have been harmed has helped win their trust. There are at present some 64,000 volunteers providing legal services for trade unions at various levels across the country.
By signing service agreements, trade unions have established long-term cooperative relationships with the members of legal teams, and strengthened their management capacity by formulating relevant measures to improve the quality of the legal aid services they provide. In particular, these cooperation models include the following:
The legal service volunteers agree to their appointment by trade unions and provide legal services for workers in the long term through such means as staffing rights protection hotlines, providing suggestions through web forums and participating in other related activities. Trade unions at various levels have established legal aid centres with dedicated staff positions; launched the "12351" workers' rights protection hotline; created a workers' rights protection service system consisting of legal consultancies, legal aid and legal training; and arranged for lawyer volunteers to provide prompt responses to telephone queries from workers and the general public as well as receiving visits in person on an ongoing basis. For example, the Hebei Federation of Trade Unions has opened a legal aid website through which lawyer volunteers can answer workers' online questions and offer timely consultations. The federation has also publicized its legal aid and rights protection hotline through the broadcast media, and organized its legal aid team to operate a programme of individual legal aid services for migrant workers during the past four Spring Festival seasons.