Collective wage talks promoted

Updated: 2011-12-09 08:31

By Chen Xin and Wu Yong (China Daily)

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Trade unions expected to play bigger role in protecting workers

KYOTO / SHENYANG - Collective bargaining can help reduce labor disputes in the world's largest manufacturing nation, said an official with the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Sachiko Yamamoto, ILO regional director for Asia and the Pacific, told China Daily that dialogue and collective bargaining are important to ensure that workers are properly paid.

"The Chinese government and trade unions have noticed the importance of collective bargaining and they are making an effort to introduce it in more enterprises," she said.

"I think through this, together with continuous improvement of industrial productivity, Chinese workers could enjoy a fairer share of the country's booming economy."

Her comments came as labor disputes have worsened in some labor-intensive sectors in China affected by the economic slowdown, although many Chinese provinces have been raising minimum wages and the central government has promised to increase them at least 13 percent on average in each of the next five years.

To solve disputes, China has been promoting collective bargaining systems and the establishment of trade unions.

Guan Ling, a cashier at a Carrefour store in Shenyang, Liaoning province, was told workers could have a 6-percent raise after the company signed a contract through collective bargaining.

"We thought it was all just a show. When I got the raise I was happy and surprised," she said.

Thanks to the contract, her salary increased to 1,300 yuan ($205) from 1,100 yuan a month.

"This is really important for us. I feel there is more to hope for," she said. "We used to think about asking the company to raise our wages, but we didn't know who to contact or how to do it."

China plans to introduce collective negotiations in 80 percent of the enterprises that have unions by 2013, and it plans to set up unions in at least 90 percent of its companies by that year.

Multinational corporations are among the first batch of companies asked to do so.

Among about 4,800 plants set up by Fortune 500 companies in China, 93 percent have already established unions, according to the All-China Federation of Trade Unions.

The outlet of Swedish home furnishings retailer Ikea in Shenyang recently agreed to a wage increase mechanism for workers under a collective contract.

The contract, which will benefit about 250 workers, set out a minimum monthly wage of 1,200 yuan and linked workers' annual pay increases to the company's profits.

The contract, brokered by a trade union, also ensures worker representatives talk with the employer every December to discuss raises for the next year.

Among 49 Fortune 500 companies that have invested in Shenyang, 47 have introduced collective negotiations, said Duan Yang, vice-chairwoman of Shenyang Federation of Trade Unions.

"Collective negotiations are beneficial to both employers and employees. An enterprise's growth needs laborers, and at the same time, only when workers' interests are protected can the enterprise sustain growth," Duan said.

But Duan said that although collective contracts were signed at most companies, clauses about wage increases were not clearly stated in some of them.

"Many disputes are about pay rises, and that's what enterprises care about most and also what we want to help workers with," she said.

In Shanghai, which has attracted Fortune 500 companies to set up more than 1,500 corporations, more than 90 percent of the companies have established trade unions and about 70 percent have introduced collective negotiations, Workers' Daily reported.

In Jiangsu province, more than 80 percent of such companies have held collective negotiations. The figure is 83 percent in Xiamen, Fujian province, the newspaper said.

Feng Xiliang, a labor expert at Beijing-based Capital University of Economics and Business, said employers should realize collective negotiations can provide a channel for employers and employees to discuss workers' welfare and solve labor disputes.

"As more overseas companies invest in China, labor relations have become more internationalized. Foreign employers should notice that a normal wage increase mechanism is necessary because workers should enjoy the fruits of the growth of enterprises," he said.

ILO and China

Commenting on the cooperation with the ILO in various programs, Yamamoto said China is a good partner.

"China has been very active in promoting decent work for laborers and protecting workers' rights, which are what the ILO is advocating. We find each other a very good partner and we will seek more cooperation in the future," she said.

Yamamoto said China has managed to maintain and promote employment since the global financial crisis broke out three years ago.

"I am impressed by China's progress in employment promotion, labor protection, improvement of people's livelihood and social security in recent years. I am also impressed by the Chinese government's very clear and determined policy in sustaining employment-centered economic growth. It's very encouraging," she said.

China created more than 57 million jobs from 2006 to 2010 and the registered unemployment rate in Chinese cities was under 4.3 percent during the period, according to Yin Weimin, minister of human resources and social security.

China's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) sets a target of creating 45 million jobs in urban areas and keeping unemployment rates under 5 percent, Yin said.

Liu Ce contributed to this story.

China Daily

(China Daily 12/09/2011 page1)