Factory trade union chairman successfully sues employer after management reprisals

A factory trade union chairman who negotiated a pay increase for company employees has now successfully sued his employer after management embarked on a campaign of harassment and retaliation against him.

The Luogang District Court in Guangzhou ruled on 5 December that the Japanese-owned Guangzhou Otomo Car Seat Co Ltd. (广州大友汽车座椅有限公司) should pay Hong Biming more than 40,000 yuan in compensation and other costs for illegally demoting him and cutting his salary.

The judgement noted that although the employer had the right to hire and fire personnel and determine their working conditions, it should not abuse that right. Moreover, it pointed out that the enterprise trade union chairman is specifically protected under the Trade Union Law from arbitrary changes in working conditions.

Hong Biming joined Guangzhou Otomo in September 2007 and in 2009 was made section head. In March 2013, Hong was elected enterprise trade union chairman and later organized the employees to engage in collective bargaining with management over wages. 

Management responded by demoting him and baring access to his office computer in a systematic campaign of harassment which culminated in January this year when the company unilaterally cut his salary. 

Hong approached the district trade union for help but to no avail. On 15 March, Hong had had enough and tendered his resignation and demanded compensation for illegal change of working conditions, his outstanding salary and a formal letter of employment termination. The company refused and Hong announced his intention to sue.

The case initially went to arbitration and Hong won a partial victory. However he was determined to push for all his demands and eventually the district court agreed. It is unknown at present if the company intends to appeal.

It is encouraging that the courts (in Guangzhou at least) are willing to protect trade union leaders who stand up for the interests of workers. However, it should be noted that worker activists who do not have protection under the Trade Union Law are regularly subject to retaliation by management and get little help from the courts. This was illustrated in the case of 70 Nokia workers in Dongguan who were sacked after taking part in a series of strikes and protests last year. The workers were seeking reinstatement on the grounds of illegal dismissal but on 13 October the Dongguan Intermediate People’s Court upheld two earlier ruling that the workers had been dismissed in a lawful manner.

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