Employees at the Shenzhen electronics factory that just nine months ago held democratic trade union elections have demanded the ouster of the union chairman and new elections to choose a representative who will defend their interests more forcefully.
More than 100 workers at Ohms Electronics signed a petition posted at the factory gate on 28 February calling for the removal of union chairman Zhao Shaobo. The petition was then taken to the nearby district trade union office, which promised to make a formal reply within one month, as required by law when more than ten percent of the members of an enterprise union sign such a request.
The demand for the recall and re-election of the union chairman followed Zhao’s failure to stand up for employees in two recent contract disputes with management. Firstly, Ohms reportedly terminated the contracts of 22 long-serving employees after refusing to sign open-ended contracts with them. And secondly, the company is said to have reneged on a promise to give workers with open-ended contracts a ten percent pay increase.
One worker, Lin Zhizhuan, who signed the petition calling for the ouster of Zhao Shaobo, told the Yangcheng Evening News that “although Zhao was directly elected by all workers, he failed to defend their interests in the recent dispute with management. “ Another worker said that Zhao had offered no constructive suggestions in the contract dispute and simply advised his members to accept the company offer: “We don’t want a union chairman who is partial towards the employer. We want to elect a chairman who can speak up for us,” he said.
Zhao Shaobo himself has so far avoided comment in the media.
Zhao’s election in May 2012 was given considerable publicity at the time and was hailed by the Shenzhen Federation of Trade Unions as the first of many democratic elections in the city. However, the demand for his ouster has highlighted once again the importance of not just holding elections but of ensuring that the elected officials can actually perform the tasks they were entrusted with. It seems likely that Zhao went into the job with the best intentions but lacked the necessary skills, as well as the support from the Shenzhen federation, to play an effective role.
On 6 March China Labour Bulletin issued a (Chinese language) statement analysing the events at Ohms Electronics so far and making a series of recommendations to the Shenzhen Federation of Trade Unions, factory employees and management on the next steps to be taken moving forward. The final paragraph stated:
CLB hopes that the recall and re-election of the trade union chairman at Ohms Electronics will create a genuinely representative trade union that can promote and defend the rights and interests of its members through collective bargaining with management. It is clear from this episode that the function of an enterprise trade union is to engage in collective bargaining, break through the longstanding barriers between workers and the union, and utilize the organizational resources created by collective bargaining to establish a worker’s powerbase in the union. The Shenzhen Federation can use this episode to take important strides on the road toward creating a worker’s trade union, and Ohms management can learn to respect the union and negotiate with it to establish wages, benefits, working hours and conditions and establish harmonious labour relations in the factory.