The world's leading retailer Wal-Mart saw a new trade union set up in one of its outlets in the southern China city of Shenzhen early Tuesday morning, where the retailer giant locates its China headquarters.
The trade union of the Wal-Mart Dafen store in Shenzhen, which neighbors Hong Kong, was installed around 1:00 a.m. Tuesday despite "repeated and various obstacles," an official with the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) said.
A total of 24 employees of Wal-Mart's Dafen store elected their first trade union committee and a fund auditing committee. Chen Li, a 25-year-old employee, was elected chairman of the trade union committee.
People in charge of the local federation of trade unions and government officials were "firm" in pushing forward the formation of the trade union, and they have been to the store in this initiative, according to the ACFTU official.
The official said the previous two Wal-Mart trade unions in the city, set up on Aug. 4 and 6 respectively, have met with no or little difficulties. Wal-Mart China, however, told Xinhua earlier that the company had not been officially notified about such union activities in advance.
The Wal-Mart employees at the Dafen store had applied to the Buji Subdistrict Federation of Trade Unions for the establishment of their own labor union.
Liang Yaofa, deputy chairman of Shenzhen Federation of Trade Unions, said joining the trade union was a voluntary choice of these employees, and his federation respected their rights and decision.
So far, 27 employees at the Dafen store have voluntarily joined in the labor union.
"I hope the trade union at the Dafen store would abide by China's trade unions law and relevant rules, and explore a brandnew way for developing union activities in big transnational companies in China," Liang said.
Liang also expressed hope that Wal-Mart China would respect their employees' wishes to join trade unions and honor its obligations under China's trade unions law, as well as to provide "essential conditions" for their operation.
Up to now, five trade unions have been set up in Wal-Mart China stores.
Employees at Wal-Mart's outlets in the eastern city of Nanjing and in Shenzhen convened late Saturday and early Sunday to unionize.
Wal-Mart's 60 Chinese outlets employ 23,000 people. The first trade union was set up at Wal-Mart's Jinjiang outlet on July 29 after 30 employees appealed to the local federation of trade unions. The second was set up last Friday at Wal-Mart's Hujing store in Shenzhen.
According to China's trade unions law, enterprises or institutions with 25 employees and above should establish trade unions, and employees have the right to join the ACFTU.
China's top trade union official and lawmaker Wang Zhaoguo proposed in early July an amendment to the Trade Union Law, making it compulsory for foreign-funded companies to unionize.
The move is aimed at countering obstinate refusals by foreign companies, including Wal-Mart, to recognize trade unions for employees in China.
Wang, president of the ACFTU and vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, said he would "initiate amendments to the Trade Union Law stipulating that companies are obligated to safeguard the establishment of trade unions."
The existing law says that employees may apply to set up labor unions at their will but fails to specify the duty of companies in assisting such an installation.
It is reported that Wal-Mart was reluctant to have trade unions in its outlets.
Dong Yuguo, who is in charge of the public relationship in Wal-Mart China, previously told Xinhua that the company's stance has not been changed that "Should associates (its employees) request the formation of a union, Wal-Mart China would respect their wishes and honor its obligations under China's trade union law."
Trade union's membership dues, however, remain a tricky problem for Wal-Mart and the ACFTU to tackle with, since according to China's trade unions law, a company has to allocate two percent of its payroll to its trade union as membership dues in China, which has in part hampered transnational enterprises' enthusiasm to form labor unions.
A senior official with the ACFTU said earlier this week that all Wal-Mart outlets in China must eventually allow trade unions.
The ACFTU has a membership of 150 million and has 1.174 million branches. In 2006, the union plans to install more than 120,000 branches across the country, with more than 13 million new members.
One of the major tasks of the ACFTU in 2006 is to push foreign-funded or transnational companies to unionize, according to sources with the ACFTU.
Up to date, about 26 percent of China's 150,000-odd overseas-funded enterprises have established trade unions, with a total membership of 4.29 million.
ACFTU said it plans to boost the ratio to 50 percent by the end of 2006.