Efforts to increase trade union participation stand at the top of the ACFTU agenda. Over the years, the Federation has been exploring ways of expanding into the workplace, gaining a good deal of experience as it does so.
Wang Ying, Deputy Director of the ACFTU Grassroots Organizations and Capacity Building Department, says that organizing workers into trade unions depends on legal backing. For this reason, the ACFTU puts the emphasis on participation in the legislative process and has got actively involved in formulating a host of relevant laws and regulations.
According to Wang, China’s first Trade Union Law, which came into force in 1950, clearly defines workers’ right to join and organize trade unions, as well as unions’ status, role and duty.
The revised Trade Union Law, which became effective in 2001, stipulates that “all labourers doing physical or mental work in enterprises, public institutions and government organs within Chinese territory who earn their living primarily from wages shall have the right to participate in and form trade union organizations pursuant to the law, regardless of nationality, ethnic origin, gender, occupation, religious beliefs or education. No organization or individual may hinder them from doing so or restrict them.”
In 1994, China enacted the Labour Law, providing that “all labourers have the right to join and organize trade unions according to law. Trade unions represent and safeguard labourers’ legal rights and interests, and carry out their work independently in accordance with law.”
China’s Labour Contract Law, which came into operation in 2008, prescribes that “the placed employees have the right to join the trade union either of their staffing leasing company or the client company, or to organize such unions in accordance with the law, so as to protect their legitimate rights and interests”.
Wang adds that China’s Company Law and Law on Foreign-Funded Enterprises also lay down specific and definite stipulations about workers’ right to join and organize trade unions.
Wang believes that boosting worker participation in unions calls for macro-planning and scientific guidance.
When China introduced the market economy in the late 1970s, the ACFTU had only around 90 million members. Faced with this serious challenge, the Federation proposed in 2003 that “trade unions should be built wherever there are workers” and came up with the slogan “organize the unorganized and fight for labour rights”.
In 2010, it mounted a nationwide campaign to organize all workers in the country and introduce collective bargaining in all enterprises. The following year, it mapped out a three-year plan to increase union density.
Under the plan, an additional 1.95 million union organizations around the country would be set up and 30 million members recruited. The ACFTU looked to raise total membership with a view to achieving a unionization rate of 90% by the end of 2012.