China’s economic restructuring went into high gear in the 1990s, bringing in its wake a wave of plant closures and mass layoffs. Many workers who got the sack felt left in the lurch, struggling to get by on a tiny income. With layoffs mounting, the problem was getting more and more serious.
To help carry workers over these hard times, the ACFTU called on trade unions throughout the country to “visit workers at their homes, learn about their living conditions, solve their problems and warm their hearts”.
In 1994, to ensure that unions could reach out to troubled companies and embattled workers on a broader and more regular basis, and that help was available when it was badly needed, the ACFTU launched the Warmth Project.
Over the past 20 years, the Warmth Project has lifted millions of laid-off workers out of poverty and helped millions more of the long-term unemployed back to work.
Take the year 2013. Trade unions collected 4.3 billion yuan (about US$ 690 million) for poverty relief, went on fact-finding missions to 91,000 underperforming enterprises and visited 4.8 million poverty-stricken workers.
To ensure that poverty-stricken workers lead a decent life, trade unions have set up help centres offering a whole range of services, ranging from medical care to education for their children, job training, job hunting and legal aid. By the end of 2010, trade unions had set up 3,457 such centres, with 6 million impoverished workers benefiting from this charitable endeavour.
Today the Warmth Project has become an important component of China’s social security system, playing a vital role in solving problems of immediate concern to workers, promoting social stability and enhancing the cohesion of trade unions.