Sun, Aug 06, 2006 - Page 11 News List

Employees form union at a second Chinese Wal-Mart

AP , BEIJING

Employees at a second Wal-Mart store in China have formed a union, a news report said yesterday, as labor officials push for workers at all of the company's 60 Chinese outlets to unionize.

Some 42 employees at a store in Shenzhen, which was Wal-Mart's first Chinese outlet in 1996, voted on Friday to form a union and elected leaders, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Employees at another store formed Wal-Mart Stores Inc's first union in China last week following a lobbying campaign by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the umbrella group for unions permitted by China's Communist government.

The ACFTU has accused Wal-Mart, based in Bentonville, Arkansas, of blocking union-organizing efforts. The company says it respects employees' wishes, but said before the vote last week that none had expressed interest in a union.

The Shenzhen union will "safeguard the lawful rights and interests of the employees," Zhou Liang, its new chairman, was quoted as saying.

Zhou said it would "cooperate with the enterprise operators" to "harmonize" the relationship between employees and employers and promote development, according to Xinhua.

The ACFTU often is regarded not as an advocate for better pay and working conditions for employees but as an intermediary that represents employers to workers.

Wal-Mart has 28,000 employees in China and says it plans to open 18 to 20 new stores in the country this year.

An ACFTU official expressed hope this week that the vote last week in the southeastern city of Quanzhou would lead to all of Wal-Mart's Chinese outlets forming unions.

"This is only the beginning. Our goal is to spread trade unions to every Wal-Mart outlet in China," said Guo Wencai, director of ACFTU's department of grass-roots organizations.

China doesn't permit independent unions and activists are frequently jailed and harassed.

Unions in China usually are formed at individual companies or stores, rather than representing workers across a whole industry.

The ACFTU has said one of its key goals this year is to "push foreign-funded or transnational companies to unionize."

About 26 percent of China's 150,000 foreign-financed companies have official labor unions, according to the ACFTU. It says it hopes to raise that to 50 percent this year.

The ACFTU says that under Chinese law, any company with at least 25 employees should establish a trade union.

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