China: Walmart workers still pushing for genuine trade union elections, almost decade after promise by company

Author: Linda van der Horst, Diplomat (Japan), Published on: 16 November 2015

"Wal-Mart Uprising: The Battle for Labor Rights in China", 14 Nov 2015

…Wal-Mart...became the first foreign company to accept unionization in China in 2006. But since unionization, the ACFTU [All-China Federation of Trade Unions] has been standing on the sidelines…Wal-Mart activists argue, the enterprise union committees are controlled by management-appointed representatives, so-called “yellow union committees.” China’s labor laws and ACFTU policy theoretically allow workers to directly elect their own representatives in these enterprise unions, but in practice, Wal-Mart’s activists claim that the elections are held in secret, with Wal-Mart appointing its own representatives.

The company wouldn’t comment on the election of its ACFTU locals, or on specific labor disputes. But Marilee McInnis, Director of International Corporate Affairs at Wal-Mart, saysthat the company’s policy is to“protect the interest of associates [i.e. employees] while promoting the sustainable development of the company, provide competitive wages, and have resources in place to train and develop associates.”

…In 2013 Chinese president Xi Jinpingexplicitly asked the ACFTU to “protect workers’ interests and promote social justice to win public trust and support,” and to set up trade unions as a genuine “home for employees.” Local governments, in particular in Guangdong, have recently introduced new regulations that allow for “collective consultation,” the Chinese version of collective bargaining. And while there are still many caveats to these regulations, it is a move in the direction of strengthening the position of workers.

…Labor activists in China say that Wal-Mart has responded to such efforts by firing activists like Wang Shishu, a Wal-Mart worker in his mid-50s. Wang lost his job in 2012 after organizing workers in Shenzhen…to demand better wages…Wang sued Wal-Mart in 2012 for wrongful dismissal and won his job back. Then he lost his Wal-Mart job againafter resuming his labor activism, according to a China Labor Bulletin account…

Now the battle has shifted to Wal-Mart’s Store 1059 in Shenzhen. Wal-Mart workers there are currently challenging the results of elections, claiming they are “yellow union committees.” Zhang Liya, a Wal-Mart activist in the Staff Association and senior employee at Wal-Mart’s store 1059, announced in September that he will put himself forward as candidate for the enterprise union’s presidency whilst also campaigning for democratic elections to be held…

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Related companies: Walmart