Seeing the interest aroused by the work on trade unionism in China and Vietnam (China and Vietnam: from "official" unionism to real unionism), I attach the paragraphs on the same issue of the reports corresponding to two trips to both countries:
From the September 2016 Report:
7.- Trade unionism and trade union action in the companies we visited
Trade unionism, trade union action, in the factories we visited did not provide anything new with regard to the Chinese “trade unionism” that we are familiar with, i.e. in relation to official trade unionism, the only one that we were able to examine in the garment and footwear garment. In fact, we could speak about “non-trade unionism.”
In a 2015 interview with the ACFTU management, they spoke about a curious pilot experience precisely in the Guangzhou area (which, along with its importance in China’s footwear industry, was one of the reasons that brought us back here), explaining that they had established a new rule that forbade the company owners or their relatives from “chairing” the company trade union. The ACFTU management then rejected our suggestion to agree on a joint trade union approach to this “new and interesting” initiative and its application.
However, we returned to Guangzhou and we found a similar situation. Now in all the “big” companies (not in the one with 150 workers, considered “small”), membership was officially 100%. However, some workers did not know if their company had a trade union and found it difficult to identify the trade union –we had to ask them if they knew who “organised the karaoke” (they had no identification problems in this case). The term “trade union” had no meaning for them.
It is true that we did not find any company owners, or their relatives, chairing the unions. In this regard, we only came across a vice-manager in one, the head of accounting in another, and an official designated by the local ACFTU organisation and hired as such by the company, in the third factory; and the head of personnel as vice-president and other top executives.
In relation to the election system, only one had recently applied (and this was an excuse to tell us that they were still learning what was expected of them and were even participating in training courses in the trade union’s local premises) the procedure contemplated in Chinese legislation. This involves a first electoral phase in which a few delegates are voted for and then these in turn choose the trade union management in the next phase. In the rest, the procedure varied little from more or less irregular systems summarised as follows: the bosses, or the company management directly, choose the President and Vice-President, and each departments chooses a delegate that is more or less agreed on or indicated from above. However, all of this takes place without most workers’ participation and even without their knowledge.
In relation to trade union action, the only matter that everyone agreed on was in the organisation of events, particularly karaoke. And some opinions related the “trade union” with some kind of welfare work. When asked about the concept of collective bargaining, agreements, nobody knew about its existence; even a company union vice-president (who was also head of personnel) was unaware of this concept. One of the workers we interviewed mistook the “bosses” of the company trade union (one that I knew existed but had heard little about) for those of the Communist Party (ChCP).
In relation to the trade union quota, the situation was the same as the one detected on previous trips. In two companies, the trade union managements knew about an individual quota of 2 RMB (less than 0.30 Euros) per month, but it did not appear in the payslip and nobody was aware that they were paying it. In two of the three with an officially organised trade union, they knew that the company paid an important amount to the trade union (they thought it was 2% of the payroll in one factory, while in another they mentioned a monthly total with a fair amount of zeros, although they had doubts about the exact amount).
Isidor Boix’s trip in 2015, with a visit to factories in Hangzhou and then passing through Beijing for an official meeting with the ACFTU management, seemed to indicate a new period in the relationship between global trade unionism and China’s official trade unionism, including the latter’s approach to the Framework Agreements and their possible interest in global trade union action in defence of decent work in our world. We therefore sent them the trade union report of the aforementioned trip as well as those of previous trips. And we told them that there would be another visit in 2016 in the Guangzhou area in spring; we then asked them when it would suit them best, in order to coordinate with them and then visit Beijing with a view to what they had proposed in 2015.
However, there was no reply to our initial messages, neither as a comment to the reports we sent nor with regard to the notification of the project for 2016; neither did they reply to a second message reminding them about the matter two months later. We had therefore given up on the idea of visiting Beijing, when we received a strange proposal regarding possible joint work and a meeting to specify such. Nothing to do with the subject, but it came from the same person that led the ACFTU delegation in the 2015 meeting. We therefore modified our itinerary and told them a month in advance when we would be in Beijing, so that they could arrange an interview and, perhaps, other activities. And again silence, until the day before our flight from Guangzhou to Beijing, when they told us that, unfortunately, there would be nobody in Beijing to meet with us.
The anecdotes from 2013 and 2015, as well as this one from 2016, basically underline the fact that China does not formally have trade unions and, unlike Vietnam for example, the official trade union structure does not feature attitudes and interests coinciding with what could be regarded as the individual and collective ones of the country’s working class. The GFA with Inditex (as well as Mango’s CSR) has provided us with an interesting look at working conditions in an important sample of the country’s garment and footwear industry, as well as the reality of China’s official trade unionism.
What we have seen up to now confirms what we have detected since our first trip to China in 2006, i.e. the lack of effective channels in order to express the interests of China’s important (due to its number, but also to its history) working class. This situation undoubtedly generates elements of instability whose future development is, at least for us, unforeseeable. However, we are convinced that at some time a new trade unionism will arise, although only a few visible expressions of such have taken place to date.”
From the December 2016 Report:
3.- Trade unions in Vietnamese factories
The trade union organisation and activity that we observed in the visited factories did not differ substantially from what we saw in previous visits. In this regard, during our visit in 2015, we were able to talk at length (and to coincide in the detected problems) with the management of the country’s General Confederation of Labour (VGCL), particularly in relation to working conditions (overtime) and trade union representation in the factories (a fair number of business managers occupy posts of trade union management), as well as the scarce relevance of the current agreements, both those considered “company agreements” and the sectorial agreement in the textile-garment industry. We observed the following main elements on this occasion:
· Declared union membership ranges from 80 to 100 % of the workforce, in relation to which we have to take into account the formal freedom of unionisation as regards becoming a member or not. However, we came across one worker who said that she was not a union member because she was not interested in the matter, but her payslip included a deduction for union dues. On the other hand, an absurd situation still exists in which union membership is not allowed during the trial period, which is compounded by the duration of such and the possible volume of the workforce that is affected.
· Individual dues ranged from 0.60 to 1.40 euros per month in 3 of the factories, and amounted to 3 euros every 3 months in another. In one factory (the latter one), they are payed directly by workers to the production line’s union representative; in the other 3, dues are deducted from the salary.
· In addition to individual union dues, companies pay the trade union 2% of the payroll, which evidently accounts for the substantial part of trade union finances.
· Trade union funds are divided between territorial trade union structures and trade union (welfare) activities in the company. The distribution between both items seems to be 60-40, or 40-60, but it was difficult to receive specific figures from the company trade union leaders that we interviewed.
· The election of the company trade union management is governed by complicated procedures and occasionally by a reduced electoral body, whose explanation does not really coincide among the different companies (on one occasion, it took us almost an hour to specify it to some extent). It can be summarised by 3 electoral procedures: one for electing the candidates, another for electing those who then vote, from among these, for the company trade union management and a third procedure for carrying out this election. In all of them, we detected an indirect, and sometimes direct, influence from the company management. However, it is worth mentioning here what we observed in other visits, namely a feeling of class among company trade union representatives; although this has probably not yet become generalised, it is now possible in the current circumstances and is an important point to be taken into account for the development of real trade unionism in the future.
· Such a complex procedure (most of the workers we interviewed were unaware of or did not remember all the details of it) almost always results (as was the case in all the companies we visited on this occasion) in the posts of company trade union President and Vice-President being occupied by business managers (production manager, factory manager, personnel manager, …). In the meeting to establish the National Trade Union Network of Inditex suppliers we saw, however, that this negative reality does not affect all companies, and the persons that best represented their work colleagues played an essential role, regardless of their proportion in the meeting itself.
· Some of the business managers that were also (formally) trade union leaders, tried to justify this irregularity by highlighting the advantage of “knowing well” both sides of the interests at stake. They almost reached the point of justifying this strange negotiation with themselves in order to settle inevitable labour tensions.
· Trade union activity in the factories is mainly centred on welfare (economic aid, care for the sick, with a paternalistic view of such activity –“looking after the workers”–, …), some leisure activities, anniversary presents, … In a few cases, they insinuated that they also speak about salaries and working conditions, apart from the quality of the food or excessive working temperatures.
· In all the factories, the business management claimed to have a collective agreement, although some workers were not aware of it and most of them could not explain how it affected them. On the other hand, this is understandable in view of the limited effect of such “agreements” on the workers’ actual working conditions and salary.
· The “negotiation” procedure involved, in one of the companies, the trade union representatives obtaining the workers’ opinions beforehand; in other cases, it had to do with a direct proposal from the personnel department that was submitted to the company trade union for its consideration. There may be some prior conversations between the business and trade union managements, with the confusion resulting from their make-up. The business proposal is formally presented to a trade union “Congress” that is entitled to reject it, but all the companies told us that this has never happened. In one company, the final business proposal was signed by the workers (“all of them,” we were told) as an expression of consent.
· These “agreements” incorporate the main legal regulations regarding labour relations and add some company particularities, such as the wage scale (the bonuses to be added to the legal minimum), but without specifying their amounts. These are decided annually by the business management, without any formal negotiation.
· As an example of the limited effect of the so-called agreements, one worker that had been in the company for 11 years claimed that she did not even know what an “agreement” was.
· In one company, a document on the notice board caught our attention regarding an agreement between the company trade union and the factory’s “youth” organisation on productivity objectives. We were told that these were “communist youths” that make up approximately 15% of the workforce, but that the indicated objectives had not yet been reached. This could, however, indicate a line of political initiative (of disputed interest, particularly due to the lack of trade union initiative) aimed at influencing matters regarding the necessary improvement of work organisation, productivity. These are matters that, with a view to appropriate labour relations, and probably with a view to their efficiency, cannot be limited to the workers’ subjective stimulus.
· On this occasion, all the factories claimed that they had never had any labour disputes. In one, however, they told us about a strike in 2012 when the workers felt that they were not being paid properly for overtime. Seemingly, they were convinced by being presented with information indicating that the minimum wage in their region was lower than that of the company with which they had compared themselves. However, this situation highlights a series of relations among workers of different companies that are beyond the formal official mechanisms. In another factory they told us about a half-day strike, which was generalised in their area, as a protest over “Chinese aggression” against disputed islands in the South China Sea.
5.- An interesting article
Coinciding with our stay in Vietnam, the official English-language newspaper “Vietnam News” of November 5 published an article entitled “Measures needed to prevent labour disputes.” Some paragraphs are quoted below:
“Labour disputes kept increasing over the past years and became more complicated, demonstrating a need for adjustment of… relations between workers and employers… The country recorded 3,146 strikes… 132 strikes were reported during the first six months of this year… A representative of the ministry’s Department of Legal Affairs said that disputes… are inevitable because of on-going changes in the labour market.”
He then indicated the following, after referring to several disputes and strikes in relation to “salary, working hours, and food safety and hygiene”:
“But the strikes that resulted did not follow legal processes… This shows that some legal regulations were ineffective or not effective enough… The law should be adjusted to increase mechanisms related to dialogues and negotiations between employees and employers…”
The article, however, did not deal with what is probably the main problem: how to carry out such “dialogues and negotiations” and with which organisations representing the interests at stake.”
Surely can be objected that the main problem is certainly not the regulation of the strike, but also the insufficient exercise of freedom of association for trade union representatives to be effectively, which would rather help other regulation of the unión, Right of association and the election of trade union leaders from the workplace.
Another reference of interest for the monitoring of the evolution of Vietnamese trade unionism is the creation of the first Inditex Suppliers' Trade Union Network in Vietnam. The first in the country, and the first in the world, whose information is in: