Report from the “China-Africa Trade Unions High-Level Seminar”
“Build harmonious labour relations between Chinese and African enterprises, encourage enterprises to undertake more social responsibility, not only protecting workers’ rights, but also contributing to the development of China-Africa’s economy and long lasting friendship”. Deliberations from the China-Africa Trade Unions High-Level Seminar held in Beijing, “Multi-National Corporations Labour Relations and the Role of Trade Unions” report that Chinese and African trade union leaders, as well as experts jointly suggested that Chinese enterprises “going out” should turn into a “positive energy” for China-Africa development.
China has been Africa’s largest trading partner for the fifth consecutive year. In 2013 China-Africa trade volume reached USD 201.2 billion. The 2013 white paper “China-Africa Economic Cooperation” revealed that there are more than 2000 Chinese companies investing in more than 50 African countries and regions covering industries such as: agriculture, mining, construction, natural resources and products deep processing, industrial manufacturing, finance, trade and logistics, real estate and other fields. Chinese enterprises have already become a driving force of Africa’s economic development.
Ghana’s Trade Union Congress’ Chairman Yeboah expressed his insights: “Africa has been subjected to colonial domination, those countries only craved for our workforce and natural resources, and did not care about the environment or development. But Chinese investors are completely different. Chinese enterprises help us develop the economy, solve employment problems, improve living conditions. Whatever the Chinese do has a lot of value”.
African trade union leaders observe that Chinese companies invest in Africa in different sectors “like honey bees”, while they promote enterprise development they also become “sowers” of employment, knowledge, skills, and abilities. Like Huawei, while building fast, reliable and affordable broadband services for African people, by donating a laboratory, offering local university students free IT training and other initiatives, it helps Africa cultivate high-tech talents.
Three trade union leaders from Zambia showed appreciation for China Nonferrous Metal Mining Group’s practices of environmental protection as well as safeguard of workers’ rights and interests. The company not only abides by the commitment of “green development”, but also achieved, in 17 companies, the quota of over 85% of local employees, the provision of fitness facilities, subsidized housing, free medical care and other benefits for workers.
Many Chinese companies entering Africa also broadened the career development scenario for workers. The China State Construction Engineering Corporation Limited, by cooperating with African education and training organizations, provides local workers with long-term skills development; China Sinohydro Corporation Limited’s footprint is spread across 40 African countries, the equivalent of 3/4 of Africa, it trained large numbers of operators to use large scale machines and workers with special technical skills.
These efforts provided important support for the enhancement of African personnel technical skills. But Sino-Africa labour relations expert also noted that Chinese companies in Africa are facing “growing pains”, including the challenges brought about by labour relations disputes.
How to build harmonious labour relations in Africa? How to promote Sino-African economic and sustainable development? How to go about so that both workers and businesses win? More than 70 delegates striving to take the floor, raised their thoughts and suggestions.
“The development direction is that Chinese enterprises become “corporate citizens” in the local community”; “safeguarding workers’ rights and interests and promoting enterprise development is equally important, we need to establish the concept of workers and businesses standing together in times of need and advancing together”; “achieving the localization of human resource management will be conducive to harmonious labour relations”; “dialogue and cooperation is the best way, such as the establishment of a network platform for sharing information”; “we hope that Chinese labour unions introduce in Africa the development of collective bargaining, protection of workers’ health and safety, provision of legal assistance and other practices”.
“We should pay more attention to the role of trade unions, in particular through the strengthening of Sino-African trade unions’ cooperation and exchanges and by improving Sino-African labour relations coordination system”. African trade unions’ leaders believe that this seminar is a completely new attempt to establish a Sino-African communication mechanism, a breakthrough with the traditional model, and has a broader social dimension. Participants did not only come from trade unions, the government, employers and academics, but also from different international, regional, national and grassroots levels. The seminar created an inclusive platform, so that all parties have an equal opportunity to make their voice heard, express opinions and questions, and, seek more common understanding while exchanging ideas.
After two days of “brainstorming”, one opinion became stronger among Chinese and African labour union organizations, and in the hearts of Chinese enterprises and African labour union leaders: there exist differences between Chinese and Africa cultures, thinking and habits but regardless of whether it is an enterprise or a labour union, the objective is in common: safeguarding the lawful rights and interests of workers, improving the workers quality of life, promoting local economic development and achieving people’s happiness. China and Africa share a common destiny, they are brothers leaning on each other, and only by continuing to trust each other and help each other, and by increasing communication and understanding, then for sure they can join hands to create a better future.
(Workers Network reporters Zheng Li, Zhang Rui. Workers Network, Beijing 16th May)
Editor Guo Lijuan
（中工网记者 郑莉 张锐 中工网北京5月16日电）
[TRANSLATION] Chinese Companies in Africa Turn to "Positive Energy" for China-Africa Development
Report from the “China-Africa Trade Unions High-Level Seminar”