Chinese trade unions move forward with the times

As the All-China Federation of Trade Unions wrapped up its 14th National Congress on Friday, much of the attention moved to the five-year blueprint mapped out by the 1,679 delegates from across the country for its members.

To unswervingly serve workers and safeguard their rights and interests are listed high on the task sheets of trade unions at all levels.

The mission is an answer to the current complicated labour relations accompanying the nation's economic transition.

From a very simple labour relationship during the planned economy period, trade unions are being pushed to the frontline to defend workers' rights and interests in a market economy with multiple interest groups.

During the 13th National Congress in 1998, the federation, for the first time, specified that to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of workers was the basic responsibility of all trade unions.

The subsequent results have become a litmus test for the trade unions.

They have done a remarkable job in the past two decades to harmonize labour relations, resolve labour disputes and prevent workers' rights and interests from being diminished. They have won recognition and trust from an increasing number of workers.

The number of trade unions has expanded to 1.71 million from 510,000 in 1998, while the number of members has increased to 134 million from 90 million.

Labour relations have entered a new stage. Trade unions across the nation have led workers to actively participate in democratic decision-making processes in enterprises, and kept a watch over management. The collective labour contracts mediated by trade unions have contributed greatly to building smooth relations.

But despite the glorious past, trade unions today are confronted with an ever tougher task.

State enterprises, pressured to sharpen their competitive edge, have been cutting their redundant employees. Some are thrown into extreme hardship.

And in private enterprises and joint ventures, the delaying, cutting or even rejection of employees' payments is rampant.

Furthermore, workers in these enterprises often meet obstacles from management in setting up trade unions.

The ever expanding contingent of farmers-turned-transient workers poses a new challenge for trade unions.

The challenges posed by State and non-State enterprises to trade unions are new and complicated and require an updated strategy.

At the national congress, the federation pledged to extend its wings to shield the disadvantaged, such as farmers-turned-workers.

Marginalized by the social security system, this group of labourers is treated most unfairly.

But how to absorb into the organization transient workers, who are highly mobile, poorly-educated and weak in terms of self-protection, remains a question.

Great challenges present great opportunities. Through their efforts to address the problems, trade unions are sure to gain further momentum and attain more prominence in building harmonious labour relations.

By summing up experiences in the past and setting new goals, the national congress, held every five years, will better position trade unions to meet future challenges.



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