ACFTU and Trade Unions
ACFTU Pledges to Unionise Agency Workers
For two consecutive years, ACFTU has been submitting reports to the National People’s Congress advocating for regulation of the widespread use of agency workers. The Union estimates a total of 60 million, or one-fifth of the working population in the country employed under labour agency contract, subject to unequal wages, benefits and political rights.
In the seminar organised by ACFTU in Shenyang city on 28 July, 2011 to promote unionization of the agency workers, the Union pledged to unionise 65% of the agency companies and 80% of the agency workers in the country. Not only are the agency workers not unionized, they are not covered in the collective contract of the user company, nor do they have the same political rights as the contractual and permanent workers in workers’ assembly and other political elections. Unionising the agency workers has been written into ACFTU’s three-year plan of achieving the Two Universals between 2011 and 2013, which aims to attain universal unionization and universal collective bargaining in all enterprises by the end of 2013.
How does ACFTU form a union of the agency workers? Does union membership provide equal protection to the agency workers? In 2009, ACFTU issued an internal provision, Directive on Organising Agency Workers into the Trade Union which outlines the principles and steps in promoting membership amongst the agency workers.
Although the Labour Contract Law allows agency workers to join either the union at the agency company or the user company, the ACFTU is instructing affiliates to unionise agency workers at the agency company. Only when there is no trade union established at the agency company are they allowed to join the union at the user company. Furthermore, trans-regional alignment of the agency workers employed by the same labour agency to work under the same user company is sanctioned[NOTE1]. The agency company union is prohibited to initiate a joint trade union committee amongst the subsidiaries of the user company where its members are employed. The prohibition of “organized” agency workers to align under the same actual employer, and liaise across regions is regarded as contradicting the administrative and political governance structure of the union. Grassroots trade unions are structured according to the division of public administration, and under the dual leadership of the upper federation and the party committee of the same administrative level. Regional networking outside the parameters is not allowed.
Protection of the Rights of Agency Workers
Members of the union of the agency company are not protected in the user company, unless the union of the agency company delegates membership management to the union of the user company during the period of their assignment. The scope of duties and responsibilities of the unions, the rights and obligations of the members are drawn in the delegation agreement between the two unions. The area of delegation covers mainly service extension such as of vocational training, aid and welfare, and provision of social activities to the dispatch workers at the user company. In collective negotiation, ACFTU encourages the union of the user company to involve the agency workers to attend the negotiation or the workers’ assembly, and to take account of their opinions, not necessarily having the right to negotiate.
Instead of collecting membership fee from members, the largest part of the income of the enterprise trade union in China is derived from the trade union dues collected from the employers at 2% of the total monthly payroll of the whole workforce. The union dues of the agency company are contributed by the user company based on 2% of the payroll of the total number of the agency workers employed in the user company. Out of the collected dues, 40% of it is sent to the supervisory trade union (of the agency company) and the other 60% is used for activities and members. In case the trade union of the agency company has delegated the union of the user company as the caretaker of its members, it is up to both trade unions to decide the distribution and usage of the union dues collected.
The preferred strategy of ACFTU in unionising the agency workers under the union of the agency company rather than the user company is based on the legal employment relation between the agency workers and the agency company. Yet unionising and representation for bargaining becomes separated under the strategy. Without a membership mandate over the user company, or a mandate based on a collective sectoral agreement, the union at the agency company can hardly bargain the assignment contract, demand equal treatment and enforce protection at the user company. Since agency workers has just been integrated into the unionizing campaign, securing the union dues from the user company and putting the agency company unions into operation seem to be the priority rather than collective bargaining at the moment. The model of collective bargaining with the management of the agency company, and bargaining about the working conditions of the agency workers in the user company is still a question to be explored.
[NOTE1]The 2009 Directive on unionising dispatch workers prohibits dispatch company unions to take the lead and form a trans-regional joint trade union committee between the unions of the subsidiaries of the same user company where its members are employed. Rather than viewing it as providing a base for the dispatch workers employed by the same employer to protect their interests, the initiative is said to contradict the structure and administration of regional federations of trade unions.