EXERCISE RIGHT: On August 17, 2006, staff at the Zhongshan Street branch of Wal-Mart vote to establish a trade union
All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) held a press conference on December 24, 2008, reviewing the achievements of the national unionization campaign, which began in June the same year, for multinational companies in China.
According to data provided by ACFTU, 483 Fortune 500 firms are doing business in China, with 375 setting up headquarters, about 10,000 having subsidiary operations. Less than half of them have established trade unions, compared with more than 73 percent for all foreign-funded firms in China.
"During the national unionization campaign, ACFTU pushed 149 of the Fortune 500 firms to set up trade unions," said Guo Wencai, Director of the Grassroots Organizations and Capacity Building Department of ACFTU. "Until today, a total of 313 multinational companies' headquarters have set up trade unions, accounting for 83 percent of those based in China."
According to Guo, although the national unionization campaign achieved much, the situation remains serious.
"Fortune 500 firms have been our focus in the formation of trade unions among foreign-funded enterprises," Guo said.
One excuse for multinational companies in China not setting up trade unions is that they have similar organizations such as staff welfare unions, workers welfare unions and staff clubs.
"Obviously, those so-called staff welfare unions are not equal to trade unions," said Wang Ying, a division chief of the Grassroots Organizations and Capacity Building Department of ACFTU. "They are not independent organizations but only subsidiaries of those companies so they cannot protect the rights of staff."
According to China's Trade Union Law, trade unions must be independent legal entities, with equal rights to companies, mutually cooperating and supporting them.
In mid-January of 2007, BMW Brilliance Automotive Ltd. (BBA), located in Shenyang, capital of Liaoning Province, established a trade union after nearly half a year of preparation.
Sun Zhenzhong, President of the trade union, said BBA had set up a staff club before establishing the trade union, which he had been the president of it. During preparation for setting up the trade union, management at BBA advocated directly changing the staff club into a trade union, without changing its original structure. This idea was opposed by its workers and the local grassroots trade union.
"The main purpose of the staff club is to enrich workers' spare time and its members are all part-time. The main purpose of the trade union is to safeguard the rights and interests of staff members," Sun said.
Another reason multinational companies give for not setting up trade unions is that their staff members do not propose the idea.
Alluding to this explanation, Wang said it was because multinational companies do not fully understand Chinese law. According to the Trade Union Law, all workers have the right to organize and be members of a trade union and no organization or person has the right to limit the establishment of one.