Employees at the local branch of US retail giant Wal-Mart, which has faced criticism for alleged anti-union activities, have set up the company's first trade union in China.
Thirty Wal-Mart employees established the union in Jinjiang, Quanzhou, in Fujian Province. The union is the first in Wal-Mart's 59 China stores.
Wal-Mart, the world's biggest retailer, entered the Chinese mainland in 1996. Since then it has set up stores in 30 cities, employing at least 20,000 people.
The Jinjiang store opened last November and currently has more than 400 employees.
Ke Yunlong, 29, who works in the store's meat section, has been elected union chairman.
"Besides excitement, I feel responsibility," said Ke. "The union is expected to protect employees' interests and rights, as well as co-ordinate activities with Wal-Mart to make sure the business runs smoothly."
Liu Jiade, 35, who works in the reception department, was another founder-member of the union. Asked why he wanted to join, his explanation was simple to safeguard his interests and rights.
"Before I joined Wal-Mart, I worked for another store, which defaulted on my salary and did not pay me when I quit," said Liu. "From then on, I realized that a single employee's voice isn't loud enough. We can depend on the trade union."
Earlier this month, the 30 employees applied to the Quanzhou Federation of Trade Unions to set up a union branch.
The federation offered them guidance in forming the branch and last night Vice-Chairman Fu Furong praised the workers' determination to look after their rights.
"Their strong aspiration for unionization was the driving factor in establishing the branch," said Fu.
Wal-Mart has faced sustained criticism from unions in the US and Canada. The US's United Food and Commercial Workers Union regularly organizes pickets outside Wal-Mart stores.
In Canada, union bosses claim Wal-Mart closed its Jonquiere, Quebec, branch in 2004 in retaliation after employees unionized.
However, in the same year, Wal-Mart issued a statement promising to abide by the Law of Trade Union and respect employees' rights to form unions in China.
"The foundation of Wal-Mart's first trade union is a milestone for the unionisation of foreign-funded enterprises in China," said Xu Deming, vice-chaiman of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU).
ACFTU statistics show that by last September, only about 26 per cent of the more than 150,000 foreign-funded enterprises in China had set up trade unions.
The ACFTU expects more trade unions will be set up in foreign-invested companies this year.
Source: China Daily