by Wang Xuemei
All China Federation of Trade Unions
A contribution to the discussion at the international trade union conference on working women that was held in Brussels in September.
WOMEN WORKERS are an important force to build a harmonious socialist society, and so are a very important component part of Chinese working class, and of its total employment population of 750 million, women account for about 46 per cent. The total membership of the ACFTU is nearly 170 million and the unionisation rate is 73.6 per cent on the whole, of which we have more than 61 million women members, making 36.4 per cent of the total. Therefore it is very important for Chinese unions to protect the women workers and staff.
The Chinese government has attached importance on the work of working women and intensified its efforts in the formulation, revision and enforcement of relevant laws, policies and regulations to protect the legitimate rights and interests of women in earnest.
China has built a complete legal system concerning the protection of women’s rights and interests, promotion of gender equality, and improvement of women workers’ employment environment based on the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, the Labour Law of the People’s Republic of China. The Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women is the main body of law protecting women workers and various separate laws and regulations, local regulations and administrative rules adopted by various government departments give supplementary provisions.
Along with the continuous growth of China’s economy and the overall progress of its society, women are being given more guarantees of enjoyment of equal rights and opportunities with men, and the development of working women’s rights and interest’s protection is being given unprecedented opportunities. The social status of women workers is being improved and the employment environment is getting better.
So the work of trade unions on women workers’ affairs has very good opportunities for development. However, along with the development of economic reform and changes brought by industrial restructure, we recognise that trade unions’ work on women workers’ affairs is also facing serious challenges, especially on the context of globalisation.
For example, the degree of women workers’ participation in national and social affairs, enterprise management and policy/decision-making is not yet high enough. There are more difficulties for women workers’ employment and re-employment than for men due to some extent of gender discrimination in the employment market and encroachment on women workers’ employment rights and interests. These include special care during menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and lactation periods, and child-bearing – the so called four periods of care for women employees and so on – they are not as well practised as we expect .
It is the basic task of Chinese trade unions especially their women workers’ organisations to protect workers, women staff and workers’ legitimate rights and special interests in particular. In recent years, with the deepening of economic reform and industrial restructure in China, we have seen many changes in social economies, form of organisations, types of employment, interest relations and mode of distribution; they are all getting increasingly more diversified. Labour relations are expected to become more complicated and conflict between different interests groups is increasing.
While the total number of women staff and workers is tending to increase, requests for the protection of women workers’ rights and interests are becoming diversified and more difficult. A large number of women in the rural workforce have shifted to non-agricultural industries and moved to urban areas. Rural women workers have become an important component part of the total workerforce.
Women workers in non public-sector economies are increasing as the non public-sector economy is developing rapidly. The diverse type of employment and intense competition in employment has caused an increase in laid-off and unemployed women workers. According to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, unemployed women workers account for around 45 per cent of all unemployed workers.
The new changes for women workers have many effects. For example, due to industrial restructuring, the proportion of women workers in organisations with established trade unions, which work relatively well for the women is decreasing. Meanwhile the number of women workers is increasing in non public-sector economies, where women workers’ organisations are relatively weak or non-existent. The establishment of organisations and the form they take, even the working methods of the trade unions and women workers organisations face challenges of innovation to achieve a breakthrough.
Chinese trade unions take whatever pains are necessary to protect women workers. Women workers committees, set up by trade unions at various levels, voice the concerns of women workers and protect their legitimate rights and special interests. For a long time, Chinese trade unions have devoted major efforts to protecting the legitimate rights and interests of women workers related to gender equality, employment, pay, social security and workplace safety. They have offered education and training programmes tailored to the special needs of women workers in a bid to improve their professional and technical competence. Their efforts are largely succeeding.
Recently the ACFTU has adopted a regulation on the work of trade unions in the enterprises which includes one particular chapter on women workers. Now the women workers’ organisations at different levels are working to implement this regulation and through this effort to do a better job, to protect the legitimate rights and special interests of women workers in the enterprises.
Meanwhile the ACFTU pays much attention to the protection women staff and workers regarding their rights and interests of equal employment. The ACFTU now actively focuses on driving forward the special collective contract to protect the rights and interests of women workers, and give prominence to the contents of the following key points: employment, equal pay for the same job, leave and holidays, four periods care, vocational education and skill training and so on. Women workers organisations at all levels take various measures to guarantee the effectiveness of their performance through a good efficient supervisory mechanism.
To target the problems of women workers – say for example, four periods care is not doing well as we expected, conditions of vocational safety and health are not good enough, and their intensity of labour (they are working too hard and need to decrease the amount of human labour) in non public-sector enterprises, especially small and medium enterprises – women workers’ organisations within trade unions participate possitively at different levels . They push up the revision of the regulations on labour protection for women workers and give policy suggestions to government concerned to improve it.They try their best to protect the rights and interests of women workers’ labour safety and health.
Concerning the daily life and difficulties of women workers in need, particularly one-parent women worker, the women workers’ organisations give their personal assistance in concrete forms and push the local governments to solve the problems of re-employment for unemployed women workers, and give assistance when they are in difficulties.
The Chinese trade unions strengthen the investigation and research on women workers, try to unionise women workers, and establish the protection mechanism for women workers’ rights and interests. Now we have established 760,000 union grassroot units of women workers’ organisations, which account for 57.8 per cent of grassroot unions in the whole country.
With the contemporary situation of economic integration and globalisation, with transnational capital transferred from one country to another, women staff and workers in China are affected more than men, for many reasons.
Dear colleagues, sisters and brothers. The ACFTU insists that we will unionise them wherever we have women workers. Let’s fight for women workers legitimate rights and special interests together.