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Unions in China still feeble, but gaining foothold

Most Fortune 500 companies operating there have agreed to let workers organize, but can expect little pushback from the state-controlled groups.

Collective force? Unions will soon be allowed in most foreign firms, but many observers do not expect much pressure from the state-approved organizations.


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– Almost all the Fortune 500 companies in China will allow unions to open in their factories, according to union leaders who are wrapping up this week a 100-day campaign to organize workers in some of the world's largest corporations.

There are holdouts, such as Microsoft and pharmaceutical giant, Wyeth. But even they "don't dare say they will not set up unions," which would be illegal, says Wang Ying, a senior official with the state-backed All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). "They are finding all kinds of excuses to put it off."

Many foreign firms see unions as an unnecessary hindrance, but even those that moved to China to escape unions "should not assume that just because unions are coming here, the sky is falling," says Jim Leininger, Beijing head of the US management consulting firm Watson Wyatt.

Though there are signs that some of them might be ready to try the sort of collective bargaining that is standard in Western countries, "they will not necessarily be confrontational as in the West," predicts Constance Thomas, head of the China office of the United Nations International Labor Organization.


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