UNIONS have been formed in fewer than 60 per cent of Guangdong's 10,000 foreign-funded enterprises, despite repeated calls from Beijing to protect workers' rights. The prosperous province is home to one-third of the country's foreign-funded enterprises. These factories which have more than 25 workers and are located in cities are required to form a union. Out of 21,000 foreign-funded firms in operation, about 10,000 fall into this category. Kong Xianghong, general secretary of Guangdong's Federation of Trade Unions, blamed the low rate of unionisation on the government-sanctioned union's manpower shortage. In some areas, 12 union officials have to look after the activities of about 200 unions, Mr Kong said. 'The growth of enterprises is so rapid that the input of manpower into union formation is comparatively inadequate,' he said. Mr Kong said the number of foreign-funded factories in some counties stood at hundreds. He added that there were reservations and, to a certain extent, resistance from foreign investors to these unions, especially as they were tied to the official union. 'We don't want to antagonise foreign investors and have been trying to convince them to do it willingly themselves,' he said. But with a target of at least 80 per cent unionisation this year, Mr Kong said enterprises would have to agree to the formation of unions whether they wished to or not. 'The speed of unionisation will be different this year. And the decision is actually up to the workers. 'So like it or not, [bosses] will have to do it,' he said. But Mr Kong noted that workers, 90 per cent of whom came from rural areas, had very little awareness of workers' rights and trade unions. 'They have little education and are relatively ignorant of their right to organise. We have had problems with them,' he said. In recent years, reports of abuses of workers' rights and interests have been on the increase, especially in foreign-funded enterprises. Mr Kong said this was a normal trend. 'Many of the labour disputes were just submerged in the days of central planning economy. Things are just coming to the surface now,' he said. 'In the past, workers had had no rights at all because everything, virtually everything, belonged to the state. 'They had no means to register their grievances or to appeal. 'But now, the state has divorced itself from what were originally state enterprises. Conflicts have therefore become ones between bosses and workers,' he said. He said this also accounted for the increase in labour disputes.