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CUPE National President Paul Moist has just returned from a Canadian Labour Congress delegation to China to meet with workers and union representatives to discuss the growth of the labour movement in China.

The trip was organized at the request of the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACTFU).  The delegation included senior leaders from the CLC, CUPE, the Steelworkers, the CAW and the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour.

As President Moist states it was an interesting time to visit China, both because of domestic challenges facing the labour movement in China but also because of public discussions across Canada about the future of trade with China.

China is a country of stunning contrasts. On one hand there is state of the art buildings and infrastructure, like high speed rail lines. But at the same time there is a huge equality gap. While there has been many lifted out of poverty by China’s growth, the gap between the rich and the poor is very evident,” said Moist.

The shift in China to a market system has meant that the labour movement has had to shift as well. There has been widespread worker unrest and wildcat strikes have occurred, mostly involving non-unionized workers. Though ACTFU is structured as an arm’s length government entity, labour unrest is forcing them to examine how they can more effectively stand up for workers.

When I was in China I was struck by the absence of worker rights as we know them.” said Moist. “The ACFTU leaders we met were intensely interested in our views on collective bargaining and organizing, but our descriptions of Canadian norms in these areas were unfamiliar concepts to them.”

China is slowly starting to bring in social programs that will help support working families.  The Chinese government is looking to stimulate domestic consumer demand through the introduction of a basic social safety net which includes pensions, health insurance and paid parental leave provisions

China is still a developing nation and has a lot of work to do before workers have the same level of human rights and civil liberties as we do in Canada,” added Moist. “The question of human rights needs to be looked at in discussion of the FIPA trade deal, and Chinese state investment in the Canadian resource industry.

I believe we must be a trading nation, but our governments must negotiate as strongly as others do to protect our resources to be used in the interests of our country and to protect and enhance employment opportunities for Canadians,” said Moist. “At the same time, we have a role to play to ensure that the government of China moves forward on the human rights file.”

The CLC will continue to build a relationship with ACFU, and will host a delegation of Chinese union leaders next year. The CLC is also advocating that Canada continue with CIDA funding past 2014 to support important programs addressing the exploitation of women, migrant workers and ethnic  minorities.