Workers’ leaders in China are resorting to legal channels to redress reprisals from their employers

Xinli Shoes Factory's worker representatives holding their dismissal letters. Photo Credit: Southern Metropolis Daily

Xinli Shoes Factory’s worker representatives holding their dismissal letters. Photo Credit: Southern Metropolis Daily

As an increasing number of Chinese workers are resorting to collective bargaining to defend their rights, workers’ leaders face risks of demotion, pay cut, or even dismissal from employers. A recent case in Guangzou showed how a workers’ leader managed to redress the injustice through the legal channel.

Hong Biming is the union chairman of the Guangzhou-based Dayou Auto Chair Company. He joined the company in 2007, promoted as a production head in 2009, and was elected as union chairman in 2013. Last June, he organised workers to negotiate with management for a pay increase. Despite the success of the collective bargaining, Hong faced reprisal from the company, including demotion, confiscation of his office computer, and a pay cut, according to a Chinese story on China Labour Bulletin.

In March this year, Hong sued the company for refusal of providing work equipment and adequate salary. In 5 December, the district court ruled Hong won the case and Dayou shall pay Hong a compensation of 40,000 yuan (around 4115 pounds), including contract severance pay and wage arrears.

The court said Dayou’s reason for demoting Hong was ungrounded and the company should not dismiss or demote an employee without adequate discretion.

“Hong Biming has been a production head for four and a half years. This position was a recognition of his work achievement and confirmation of his stable pay. The company’s cease of his contract renewal citing his contract has come to an end is unfair to Hong,” the court said.

Also, China’s trade union law prescribes that the employer shouldn’t demote a union chairman or deputy chairman before the end of his term without the approval of the company-level union committee and the upper-level union committee. Dayou’s practice of not hiring Hong as production head and stopping paying his salary lacks regulatory and legal basis.

Hong tried to seek help from the district-level trade union, whose negotiation with Dayou yielded nothing.

In another recent case, five workers’ representatives were fired after they led over 300 workers for a 8-day strike demanding their legally stipulated social insurance payment from Dongguan Xinli Shoes Factory. Xinli makes shoes for the British luxury brand Burberry, according to Southern Metropolis Daily.

The factory accused these five workers, along with other were workers, of gathering crowd to provoke trouble. Workers unhappy about the discharge had filed a complaint to the municipal labour arbitration court. The first hearing took place on 12 December and the result is to be announced later. USi will follow up accordingly.

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Jennifer Zhang

Jennifer Zhang is USi’s China coordinator based in Hong Kong.

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