China pushes popular vote for trade union heads (09/25/03)
2003/10/23

The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), the leading trade union organization, is drafting a regulation on a popular vote for chairman of grassroots trade unions, an ACFTU official said on Sep.25.

The ACFTU will promote the popular vote to elect grassroots trade unions' chairmen as a main task in the next few years, said Guo Wencai, head of the ACFTU department in charge of grassroots organization build-up.

At most trade unions, the president or chairman is elected by a standing committee or executive committee, elected by trade union members. With the popular vote, all members of a trade union will vote to elect their chairman, considered another step for the country's grassroots democracy as the country has 1.34 billion trade union members. In recent years, the popular vote has been adopted by villagers to elect a village head.

According to the ACFTU constitution, the popular vote for the chairman of a trade union is allowed. "But practical guidelines for the voting are lacking," Guo said. "The regulation in draft will elaborate the guidelines, procedure of the popular vote and requirement of the candidates."

Grassroots trade unions include trade unions in an enterprise or institution. Popular votes have been carried out by some trade unions in more developed coastal provinces such as Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang and Shandong provinces.

Among some 900 grassroots trade unions in Yuhang District of Hangzhou City, capital of Zhejiang Province in east China, 341 have chairmen elected directly by their members. "Trade union members regard the vote as a more direct way to exercise their power and express their opinion," said Mo Bingfa, chairman of the Trade Union of Yuhang District. Mo is in Beijing attending the Chinese Trade Unions 14th National Congress held from Sept. 22 to 26. Zhejiang Province is known for its flourishing private companies. The Yuhang District Trade Union started promoting the popular vote in 1999 and three years later it has been widely adopted.

"Most of the chairmen elected from members, talented and young, have a higher sense of responsibility to stand out for the rights and interests of the workers," Mo said. A survey of some 6,000 trade union members in 193 companies last year showed 95 percent of them evaluated chairmen elected through popular vote "meeting expectations." Arguments between employees and employers are increasing as the country is moving out of the planned economy with booming private and foreign companies and restructuring state-owned enterprises.

"Workers expect trade unions to do a better job to protect their rights than before," Guo said. "That's why they are interested in who will be the one to lead the organization." A practical regulation is needed to promote a popular vote in grassroots trade unions, said Prof. Guan Huai from the People's University, who is also a counselor of the ACFTU.

Local trade unions should train the chairmen to improve their knowledge about labor laws and their capability to negotiate with employers, said Huang Xiaoying, chairwoman of the trade union of Xiamen City in Fujian Province. There are some trade unions in China that have voted for a chairman that employers do not support, she said. "But I believe people will see the favorable impact of the popular vote."


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