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China’s Technology Workers Get Unions


FILE - The app of Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi is seen on a mobile phone in front of the company logo displayed in this illustration picture taken July 1, 2021. (REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration/File Photo)
China’s Technology Workers Get Unions
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Two major Chinese technology companies, Didi Global and Jd.com, set up labor groups for their employees this week. Also called unions, such groups are controlled by workers and designed to protect their rights and interests on the job.

The creation of these unions is a major change in the technology industry in China, where organized labor is very rare.

Did Global is an online ride-sharing business. Jd.com is an online marketplace.

China’s regulatory agency has been closely watching the country’s biggest technology companies this year. Regulators have sharply criticized the industry for having policies that abuse workers and violate shoppers’ rights. The regulatory agency has launched several investigations and ordered fines against some companies.

Delivery workers move parcels from an automated sorting belt to carts at a JD.com's smart logistics center on Singles Day shopping festival, in Beijing, China November 11, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
Delivery workers move parcels from an automated sorting belt to carts at a JD.com's smart logistics center on Singles Day shopping festival, in Beijing, China November 11, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

The government is urging companies to set up programs to share wealth more fairly with workers. The push is part of President Xi Jinping’s plan to ease inequality in China, the largest economy after the United States.

At first, Didi's workers at its Beijing headquarters will supervise the union with guidance from the All China Federation of Trade Unions, or ACTFU. That information is from two people who have knowledge of the matter. The people were not given permission to speak to media and asked not to be identified.

A newspaper with a connection to the Beijing Federation of Trade Unions announced that JD.com established a trade union. The report included photos of the ceremony the company held, which was attended by many government officials.

JD.com confirmed the news, saying that some of its local workplaces had created unions in past years. It said the new union’s aim is to cooperate on planning and resources.

Didi did not answer a request for comment.

Didi has been criticized by state media for not paying its drivers fairly. The company said in April it would set up a drivers’ group to settle the wages problem. The company has also been the subject of an investigation by several Chinese officials since its $4.4 billion U.S. stock market listing in June.

Didi and JD.com are believed to be the biggest technology companies in China to have set up company-wide unions. But officials in the Hubei area say unions have been set up there for workers of the companies Meituan and Alibaba's Ele.me.

Meituan is an internet service that lets users order food, buy travel, book entertainment, book housecleaners and do much more.

Ele.me is an online service for ordering and delivery of food.

Neither Meituan nor Alibaba answered Reuters’ requests for comment.

The two food delivery firms have been criticized in local media for their treatment of delivery workers. The companies do not give most of these workers basic social and medical insurance.

In July, the ACFTU and seven other Chinese government agencies published guidance on protecting the rights of such contract workers. It also suggested unions play a major part in helping negotiate with companies.

All unions in China are required to register with the ACFTU. But the agency has often been criticized for its inability to negotiate better terms for workers.

Aidan Chau is a researcher for the China Labour Bulletin, a workers’ rights organization based in Hong Kong. He said the country's unions mostly avoid facing abusive policies at big companies. Instead, they deal directly with individual employees' problems on a case-by-case basis. They also provide more general support for workers, such as programs for health and safety.

Last month, China's highest court ruled that a common employment policy, known as "996,” violates the law. “996” means working from nine in the morning to nine at night six days a week. Chinese technology companies are known for expecting employees to follow the “996” system.

I’m Alice Bryant.

Reuters news agency reported this story. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

regulatory – adj. making or concerned with making official rules about what is acceptable in a particular business, activity, etc.

stock – n. a share of the value of a company which can be bought, sold, or traded as an investment

delivery – n. the act of taking something to a person or place

insurance – n. an agreement in which a person makes regular payments to a company and the company promises to pay money for the person’s medical care

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