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Collective talks give pay increase to Carrefour workers

By Chen Xin  (China Daily)

08:00, August 20, 2012

Workers at Carrefour's Shanghai company will see their total wages increase by 7.5 percent as a result of collective bargaining that was conducted in March between the company and its employees.

Carrefour's Shanghai company, which was established by the France-based supermarket company Carrefour and the Shanghai-based retailer Lianhua, signed its first collective wage contract in March 2011. Under the agreement, workers at the company received an 8 percent raise in their total wages and the assurance that their base pay would be set at an amount that is 5 percent higher than the local minimum wage.

"The employer proposed a 6-percent wage rise for this year but we demanded an 8-percent increase, just as it was last year," said Ma Yudong, trade union chairman for the company. "Both parties compromised and finally agreed to a 7.5 percent raise, largely because the company is seeing its profits decrease."

Ma said the collective contract, which applies to 6,500 people, stipulates that employees of Carrefour's Shanghai company will receive one additional payment of their monthly wages every year after they have worked for the company for a year. It also ensures that workers can enjoy paid leave and that female workers can undergo free physical examinations twice a year and receive other benefits.

Obtaining those results was not easy, said Mao Ronghua, deputy head of the Shanghai Municipal Federation of Trade Unions.

Mao said the trade union representing employees at Carrefour's Shanghai company had asked it to hold collective talks many times since 2007 and was turned down repeatedly.

In January 2011, the Shanghai-based newspaper Labour Daily reported that the wages the company pays workers have not changed for years, prompting other media to begin reporting on the issue.

The media pressure, as well as calls for fairer pay made by the local government and other union organizations, accelerated the company's collective bargaining, Mao said.

Mao said he and senior officials from Bailian Group, the parent company of Carrefour's Chinese partner Lianhua, met with the French general manager of the joint venture to talk about the possibility of negotiating.

"We talked three times, each time for more than three hours, with the French manager before we carried out 10 rounds of formal collective talks that lasted for two months," he said.

Mao said officials at Carrefour's Shanghai company at first were against holding the talks, saying they believed the company's system of distributing income was reasonable. They also said employees' help wasn't needed in the setting of wages and that raising their pay would only make employing them more expensive.

"But after our repeated and patient attempts to explain the mission of Chinese unions, which is to support the development of enterprises and protect workers' rights, the employer finally understood and agreed to hold the talks," he said.

Mao said the contract stipulates that a collective talk mechanism be used every year in negotiations about wage changes and other benefits.

"The French manager also said that he is willing to negotiate more with employees about their demands," he said.

After the company signed a collective contract in March last year, Zhu Xuefeng, a 36-year-old worker with the company's pricing division, began making 1,750 yuan ($275) a month, nearly 250 yuan more than before that agreement came into effect. And the newest round of talks enabled him to earn 1,950 yuan a month now.

"Although I've seen a wage increase in the past two years, I'm still paid almost the lowest wages in the company, more or less as much as new staff members make, and I have worked here for eight years," he said. "I hope they (the union, the employer and workers' representatives) will take employees' experience into account when they decide our wages."

Wang Shijun, a middle-level managerial staff member at the company, said the collective contract did not increase his wages and he has not received a raise in two years.

"The contract will mainly benefit grassroots workers," he said. "But I hope it will contain some clause that will include us in the wage raises, even if our wages increase more slowly than ordinary workers."

Mao, the union official, said the collective contract for Carrefour's Shanghai company will give raises to about 70 percent of employees there, most of whom had only received wages equal to the local minimum wage in the past.

In April, Shanghai raised its minimum wage from 1,280 yuan a month to 1,450 yuan.

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