ACFTU Join Forces with Employer to Suppress Union Rights
Workers from Shenzhen Jasic Technology Co. Ltd. have launched various industrial actions in the past months, demanding to organize their own trade union under the current legal framework in China. However, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (hereafter: ACFTU), the only recognized trade union in China, worked together with the enterprise’s management and deprived them of their rights to freedom of association. In this process, ACFTU and Jasic Technology adopted despicable measures to outlaw the organization set up by the workers and abused state authority to detain workers’ leaders. The labour conflict shows that not only does ACFTU take the lead to deny workers’ freedom of association, it also collude with the employer when doing so.
In early May, due to poor labour conditions and harsh management, workers’ leader Mi Jiuping and other workers sought help from the Bureau of Human Resources of Pingshan District and the district level of the ACFTU branch. At that time, the Bureau of Human Resources did not offer any resolution, while the district ACFTU suggested them to organize a trade union after learning there was no trade union in Jasic Technology. On June 7, the workers filed an application to organize a trade union at the street-level ACFTU branch and found their application rejected. The street-level ACFTU claimed that it could not process the application without an authorized stamp from the enterprise. Yet, such a regulation does not exist in Chinese laws.
On June 22, workers asked the enterprise to authorize their application, but the enterprise did not give them any clear answer. They called the indifferent street-level ACFTU and waited for three days until they were told to first recruit members and when more than 100 workers agreed to form a trade union, a workers’ congress could be held to elect the preparatory committee to form a trade union. Mi and other workers’ representatives told the district-level ACFTU several times that they were worried if the enterprise would retaliate against them. The district-level ACFTU reaffirmed that if workers would be retaliated or dismissed due to their involvement in organizing a trade union, ACFTU would send warning letters to the enterprise. With such a guarantee, Mi and his colleagues started to organize the workers, but the enterprise, as predicted, started to harass them. First it transferred Mi to another position and threatened to sack him if he disobeyed. Mi wrote to seek help from the Shenzhen City ACFTU. The city-level ACFTU called him, clearly pointed out that workers are entitled to organize and if he would be dismissed due to his organizing work, ACFTU would intervene. Thus, Mi disregarded the enterprise’s threat and collected 89 workers’ consent to support the establishment of the Jasic Technology union.
Starting from July 12, the enterprise started to spread rumours to defame workers’ efforts. First, it accused Mi and other workers’ representatives of tricking the workers into signing the application form by telling them it was a document about fire safety, as a way to coerce the workers into withdrawing their application. Then the enterprise management and Huang Jianxun (the vice-chairperson of Pingshan District ACFTU) met with Mi, told him his organizing work was illegal and demanded him to write an apology and to clarify that his action was not instructed by the district ACFTU. Such a request was refused by Mi and he would later visit the city-level trade union on July 13, demanding the enterprise to apologize and the upper level union to assist them to organize. The labour action broke out on July 18, but the authority continued to ignore the workers’ demand.
After days of discussion, the street-level ACFTU granted permission to establish a preparatory committee to form a trade union in Jasic Technology on August 1. The committee was headed by Huang Jianxun (the vice-chairperson of Pingshan District ACFTU), alongside with Zhang Zhiying (Director of Investment Projects from the Directors’ Office of Jiashi Technology). Both Huang and Zhang played significant roles in suppressing the workers’ representatives. Apparently, the management and ACFTU colluded to form a union that would support the employers and outlawthe organization set up by the workers. On its Weibo webpage (one of the most popular social media platforms in China), the district level trade union even accused the workers’ leaders of illegal organizing and claimed that it would correct the improper procedure by building a trade union lawfully. Such an accusation is a brutal assault to workers’ right to organize.
According to ILO Convention No. 87, workers are guaranteed the rights to freedom of association. However, the 1992 Trade Union Law of China restricts such freedom, as workers are only allowed to organize under ACFTU. As for the workers in Jasic Technology, the employer and ACFTU colluded to deny their rights to organize. Obviously, such a collusion aims to stop workers from controlling their trade union and to prevent them from fighting for their interests and rights. As such, not only does the ACFTU ignore its responsibility to fight for labour rights and interests, but it also serves as the employers’ henchman to oppress workers. Sad but true, this is the absurd reality of China’s trade union system and trade union law.