WS26 – Protecting employees
City : BE - Bruxelles
In partnership with :
European Economic and Social Committee / Comité économique et social européen : www.eesc.europa.eu
Born in the 19th century during the first industrial revolution, trade unions have fulfilled the need of employees to join forces and defend their rights and working conditions against capital holders and the corporate technostructures, which took on ever-increasing importance in the following century. In Europe, trade unions acted as a major social, economic and political force, in the wake of the Second World War, by structuring and channelling the demands and aspirations of salaried workers who by that time had become a vast majority, made up of relatively homogeneous groups. Despite the long-standing existence of several international trade union federations, the trade union movement was chiefly organised along national lines, at a time when national economies were cohesive. In China, relations between salaried workers and employers have been very different given the rise to power of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949, further to which the Party considered that, since it embodied the aspirations of the people, it needed driving belts rather than opposition forces.
In the past 30 years, the outlook has changed considerably in both Europe and China.
The globalisation of the largest firms has raised new challenges for European trade unions. The working world has become much more varied as the economy has become more technical, the proportion of workers in the public sector has increased and above all the services sector has taken precedence. The power of shareholders, and in particular financial institutions such as investment funds, has once again risen to dominate the power of technostructures. The various categories of salaried workers and the various economic branches have not all been exposed to international competition to the same extent.
The transformation has taken place on an even larger scale in China, with the planned, state-run economy replaced by a market economy. While the state sector still plays an important role, a new private sector, comprising firms working for foreign companies and as subcontractors, and a number of local private firms targeting the domestic market (e.g. kilns) now play a decisive role. Employer-employee relations have been overturned with the smashing of the “iron bowl” which guaranteed a standard of living and working conditions that were often mediocre but stable. Chinese workers have discovered unemployment and the need to turn the employment contract into an effective form of protection. Far from being drafted systematically, employment contracts governed by the 1995 Act also found a slew of local regulations tacked on, making actual labour legislation highly disparate. The development of labour legislation is on the agenda involving the drafting of new laws governing employment contracts, the settlement of disputes, the promotion of employment and social security. The stakes are high given that disputes are growing to protest against abuse, including salaried slavery, while the US Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai and some Chinese employers are already alarmed at the prospect of more protection for employees. The role to be played by Chinese trade unions is also in the balance, although they are, for the time being, far from being able to defend workers’ basic rights.
In this time of globalisation and since the fall of the Berlin Wall, relations between capital and workers have been ever-changing. The traditional opposition between trade unions with communist leanings and non-communist trade unions has become obsolete. The creation in 2006 of the International Trade Union Confederation marks the culmination of these developments and, perhaps a new stage in the trade union’s role and method of organisation. In China as in Europe, dialogue between forces in the world of work is seeking its path. The China-Europa Forum will be the perfect opportunity for this dialogue to take place.
LE NOUAIL MARLIERE An
NGAI Pun (潘毅)
PAULO SAMPAIO DA COSTA MACEDO Maria Teresa
WANG Fangjing (王芳境)
MA Junjie (马俊杰)
ZHANG Lei (张磊)
ZHU Qiang (祝强)
Prime movers : NGAI Pun (潘毅)
Organisers : BERKEMEIER Maria Judite, FIÑANA Celia
Moderators : PELTOLA Marja-Liisa
Reports : PEEL Jonathan
Interpreters : BURIN, HAYES, KERCHAERT, LI, LU, MICHEL-JEA, WU
Logistical support : BERKEMEIER Maria Judite, FIÑANA Celia
Hosts : BERKEMEIER Maria Judite, FIÑANA Celia
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