PSA joins union exchange with China

New Zealand’s relationship with China is a vital one. From cultural exchanges to investment and trade ties, we have become closer in recent times, particularly since the signing of the China – New Zealand Free Trade Agreement in 2008.

vectorstock 1027875As the relationship between our two countries has deepened, the NZ Council of Trade Unions (of which the PSA is the largest member) has been focusing on growing the relationship with its main Chinese counterpart the ACFTU – the All-Chinese Federation of Trade Unions. In late 2015, PSA national secretary Erin Polaczuk joined an NZCTU delegation to China.

The visit gave Erin the opportunity to report back to New Zealand unions on the state of play of the union system in China, its particular challenges and opportunities, and how both union systems can learn from one another. 

Erin says that the issues she discussed with her Chinese hosts were wide-ranging: “It was a shame to hear that public service workers haven’t had an increase in pay in several years. The Chinese government has been supressing pay rises to save money, partly due to concern about the reduction in the Chinese economy’s growth in recent times. What was really clear to me is that it’s actually quite uncertain times in China, and funding is tight.”

“I was very keen to stress the importance of public service workers’ rights, and this was a main message for me in many conversations with my hosts. It was interesting to note that there is little knowledge amongst Chinese public service workers of unions and workers’ rights, and I think there are strong cultural issues at play here and work to do to educate and support workers.” 

A key take away for Erin was the enormous amount of change China is dealing with at the moment. “The economy is slowing down, and the government has decided it wants to move from being a cheap labour source and is trying to move into high cost, innovative manufacturing. To do that the government is taking hundreds of thousands of workers and reskilling them in totally new areas to meet this need. It’s so interesting to see this kind of thing happening on such a huge scale – it’s something that could only really be attempted in China!” 

By Briar Edmonds