The Role Of Employee Unions In China: An Overview

Background of union and employee relationship

The formation of employee unions or trade Union is an issue that has not just begun in the last few decades. Reports indicate that it started way back in the alley 20th century and this was caused by the fact that the employers or organizations were exploiting their workers in the form of low payment and working of extra time. The employers had the right to treat their employees in any way that they wanted and this left the employees with no right pertaining to the job that they do (Matten and Moon 2008, p.404) 

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From the time of its introduction, many scholars have defined trade union / employee union from different angles/ perspective. One of the pioneer scholars of employee union (Sidney) defined it as a progressive merging and association of salary earners with the aim of attaining a better working conditions and getting of reasonable remuneration. Furthermore, Karl Marx is also a celebrated scholar and contributor of labor unions who played a great impact in trade union formation (Wilkinson and Fay 2011, p.70). He defined labor union as a group of persons with a common working skills who come together to protect and defend the exploitation of their rights at work. He linked the violation of rights to the extra unpaid work (working overtime), low payment, poor working conditions and lack of integrity for workers. According to the modern scholars, employee unions are organization that predominately consist of employees with principle goals and activities that include collective negotiation of wages and conditions of employment. From the definition of different scholars, it is substantial to have a generalized definition with the insight to the development (Ileana Petrescu and Simmons 2008, p.660).

Employee unions may therefore be defined as a group of workers/ employees who have come together with the aim of achieving a common goal among which may include the protection of integrity, commanding and demanding for higher wages, improving and attaining of better working environment, safety and retirement benefits. The idea of union was built on the basis of creating monopoly power in the job market which grants chance of creating a stronger bargaining power as employees of a specific profession. With the help of internal leadership of employee unions created within, the representatives are able to present the needs and concerns of its members to the respective stakeholders (Blanchflower and Bryson 2010, p.100). In other words, labor union were formed through the Merging of employees into one umbrella in order to demand for higher wages, safe working environment, and appropriate working hours. Research indicates that, the employees are enjoying a larger percentage of the employment benefits secured by the early pioneers today (Paauwe, J., 2009, p.140)

Creating a reflection of the history of labor unions to the current situation of china, there are various employee unions that have been created and are demanding for related services as that created in the early centuries by the pioneers. Today, there has been an incredible attention offered to the employee unions and this can be witnessed from different sectors. Taking china as a case study, the civil servants or the government workers are grouped according the type of the work they do. However, we note that under every field, there exists a trade union in which the employees can collectively speak and their voices/ issues taken into concern (Wood et al. 2012, p.420)

Level of perception and relation to the context of study

According to China Business Review, there was unchartered industrial actions as the trade unions had previously been left to the industrial workers and this was a traditional principle of china’s growth. However, this changed tremendously in 2016 where there were very many reported cases, where retail and service workers went into strikes. This reported that there was an increase in the level of strikes in the retail and service sector, doubling the times in the industrial sector (Donaghey et al. 2011, p.60). The strikes in this phenomenon was not organized by the leadership of the trade unions but rather by the workers themselves. In china, there is only one legally accepted trade union that merges all the workers and is referred to as All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU)

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In china, there is a current law that is directly concerned with employee union. This law permits any group of employees from the numbers of 25 and above to form an enterprise trade union, which runs under the China communist party (CMP). To ensure commitment of such groups, an obligation is dedicated to the it, of paying 2% of the total wage rates being earned by the members of the association (Preuss et al. 2009, p.960). The two percent payment is meant of staff education, funding of rational proposals, protecting the properties of the main federation. Once association is formed, the ETU’s management is not controlled by the workers themselves but rather by the company itself. This has resulted into workers/ laborers organizing and holding strikes independently

There has been  various research conducted In relation to the impact of employee unions and it is important to note that There are both positive and negative impacts of trade union. The analysis of attitude employee relation  climate have strongly been attributed to did the information collected in relation To get managerial respondents And there is always name to strike a balance between the information collected from the managerial side As well as the employees side (Budd et al. 2010, p.308).

The existence of employee union have played a significant role in Kettering for its members right from job security

Through employee unions in China, the workforce is able to collectively demand for their rights as employees of a given company or working under a registered platform of employees. According to research, employees at able to have their rights as required by the law for example Employees have paid vacation holidays protection from job discrimination coma protection from harassment by the employer, demanding for workplace safety maternity leave And parental leave among others. With proactive established rules and regulations connected by the employee unions there has been considerate and question working relationship between employer and the employees. From this View, Scholars Havi it That employee unions have helped in fighting social injustice  while ensuring work clarity in regard to the working conditions subjected to workers (Krings 2009, p.50)

It was also found that with the help of employee union, China has a better prospect of achieving development.  This is supported by the fact that Members of the Union able to secure financial assistance from financial institution with minimal Hustle. In other words, it was noted that employees who are members of Employee unions are able to afford living in better housing using better ways of transport, among others. Relating to the fact that the workforce working under the employee unions attain higher salaries and have beta enhanced employee benefits (Lu et al, 2010, p.205). Taking a critical evaluation of this point, we not that trade union are advocates of economic growth and development. Economically, one of the indicates of economic growth and development is increased per capita income which is clearly envisaged by employee unions. This has been achieved through several activities carried out by the union including the; the recruitment and selection of competent workforce, fostering and inculcating of discipline among the workers of a given profession, promotion of professionalism, and settling of industrial disputes with rationality (Bach and Bordogna 2011, p.2290). This has helped in eliminating self-rigid interest of some employees but rather working for the welfare of all its members. Furthermore, trade unions foster social adjustment of its members in relation to the current working conditions and this is done through the update of policy regulations and legislations of the union. Basing on the fact that the trade unions are integral part of the society, they also take into concern the national integrity and goals of development of the country (Özbilgin and Tatli 2011, 2230). We can clearly point out employee unions as an agent of promoting social responsibility through the incorporation of social responsibility into the members, and achieving of industrial peace.

The roles being played by the employee unions in china

Employee unions are also motivational subjects to the employees and hence improving on the productivity of the involved workforce. As highlighted earlier, workers under trade unions are able to have job security, high wages, and higher fringe benefits from their job. These act as motivational sources to the workforce and hence working at their best. This will therefore improve the quality of work produced as compared to those workers who working in poor conditions, less pay and uncertain of their future in the job (Lindgreen et al. 2009, p303)

Employee unions have helped in advocating for the rights of the employees. According to the recent research conducted, it was noted that, not all those who go into job seeking and being employed substantially understand their rights the possible fringe benefits that are supposed to come with positions that they offered (Cooper and Ellem 2008, p.550). For example, employees may not be offered breaks during the course of their jobs over the day and they are working in a highly paced context. The findings noted that the employees might work under such conditions in fear of losing their jobs. Due to the intimidation put forward by the employer, a single employer cannot have a voice of objecting such condition (Holland et al. 2011, p.100). However, with the help of the employee unions, there are terms and conditions that are set in advance, that clearly highlights the terms of work that an employee under its umbrella has to attain from the job (Shen et al. 2009, p.235).

Although there has been a considerable contribution of the employee unions in the development and adherence to the workforce rights in china, it is important to note that, before implementing the works and influence of trade unions or employee unions. it should be evaluated to establish the possible level of consequences that are most likely to arise as a result of adopting such unions. As seen earlier, it is an advantageous venture; however, it has consequences associated to it (Rousseau 2015). Literature reports have o some extent, explained that trade unions trigger unemployment on several circumstances. In attempt to keep the salary/ wages of its members high, it has a tendency of limiting the number of employees entering the profession. In other words, trade unions have tendencies of discrimination, in which case, the already members tend to put up limitation for the upcoming workforce. This renders the fresh workers from schools and institutions jobless (Yu 2008, p.520). Else, they may face unfavorable work conditions since they are not protected. For it has been strongly condemned by some researchers and they reported that the union only benefits the inside workers at the expense of new ones who are just getting into the field. Relating to the unites states, research indicates that it is due to the high cost of union partnership that has resulted into outsourcing of labor into other continents and countries which include Africa, Asia, and Latin America (Rigby et al. 2010, p.220)

Some researchers have also reported that unions are one of the causes of unemployment, as they tend to hike the working conditions. Policies like setting of minimum wages, paid holidays, and other costly services to the employers makes the cost of operation high, leading to a reduction in the profit margin and thus limiting the level of capital accumulation that would in the log run lead to further investment to source further jobs. Due to high operational costs and restrictions set up by unions, employers and organizations also tend to limit the amount of the workforce employed with the aim of maintaining a reasonable cost that does not exceed the variable costs of the business (Lavelle et al. 2010, p400)

However, it is indicated on the other hand that various studies are emphasizing on the process of revitalization strategies in china, in which case it encourages the representation of the labor market outsiders. The labor market outsiders may include the unemployed, and the precarious workers. In regard to the previous findings, it had been noted that the unions only considered the members at the expense of the outsiders and due to the critics, there is change of trend and attitude as there is restructuring of objectives to consider the new upcoming personalities was not the case in the past. Unions have also served as a platform where employers are able to attain and recruit new workforce for their organizations. It is strongly believed that the, most experience workers are attained in the unions. This therefore implies that unions also helps its members in getting jobs from reputable employers (Rigby et al. 2010, p.220) 

Furthermore, it is substantially true employee unions have tendencies of causing industrial unrest. With the help of the unions, employees have frequent tendencies of going into strike. This is due to the collective power they attain. When such phenomena happens, it causes unrest, insecurity, stagnation of important activities among others cases (Friedman and Lee 2010, p.520).

Taking a core side of ethical judgment, it is typically not clear of the contribution of employee unions, whether to take the side or against.  This is because it comprises of both positive and negative contribution. Irrespective of the general image, we all understand that the employee unions in china and other parts of the world are meant to primarily stand for the interest of its members. It is therefore undoubtedly true that the unions may not put other interests that does not satisfy its members as first priority. Analytically, unions are not good except for the employees who enjoy the benefits, as it is a hindrance to other positive factors (Friedman and Lee 2010, p.520).


From the study, it empirically discovered/ proved that unions play a substantial role in influencing the employee relationship in different countries and china in particular. The form of influence that have demonstrated both positive and negative. However, it is indicated that the negativity or positivity is dependent on the person of concern. To a greater extent, Unions play a positive role from an employees’ perspective. This is because it caters for the rights of the employees, which include collective bargaining of wage rates, setting of standards in relation to job security, and health and working conditions, which consequently leads to employee motivation and increased worker productivity. On the other hand, it was showed that, unions tend to increase unemployment by catering for the insiders (union members) at the expense of new employees and reducing the employability of organizations due to high operational costs involved in hiring employees. From the organizational/ public/ government perspectives, it was discovered that it contributes less. However, the advantages that arise from this side are complementary advantages such as attaining economic group due to increased per capita income of the working class. Therefore, there is need to strategize employee unions to while addressing the weaknesses from both sides.


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Trade Union Law and Collective Bargaining in China

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