Under the cloak of secrecy, a foreign-owned electronics company in China has agreed to pay three former workers a total of what is believed to be 250,000 yuan in compensation for unfair dismissal.
The former employees had been dismissed from the company after they were forced to take a blood test in late 2006, and their results came back positive for the Hepatitis B virus, HBV. In early 2007, the three sacked employees filed a complaint with their local labour bureau, seeking 300,000 yuan in damages. The complaint was withdrawn after the company entered a private and confidential agreement with the former employees, which required them not to discuss the terms of the settlement with anyone.
This kind of gagging order is not uncommon in labour rights cases in China. It is used by companies to conceal their wrongdoing and limit their future exposure to civil action. However, in this case, at least the sacked workers did obtain almost all the damages they were seeking, and the company concerned has certainly been made aware of the issue of HBV discrimination.
Earlier, in November 2007, Pulihua, a Foshan-based subsidiary of Taiwanese computer giant Foxconn, abandoned plans to test all its employees for HBV after the pressure group Yirenping brought the company’s scheme to the attention of the media and the local authorities. In addition, Yirenping distributed more than 3,000 flyers to Pulihua employees alerting them to the company’s illegal action and urging them to protect their rights.
On 11 November, the day of the planned mass testing, the Foshan government’s health department sent a team of inspectors to Pulihua. The following day, the local government issued a notice declaring that if any company forced employees to take an HBV blood test, it would be severely punished. Pulihua agreed to abandon the test and promised not to undertake HBV testing in the future.
The above two examples demonstrate that pressure from non-governmental organizations like Yirenping can have a positive effect in not only raising public awareness of HBV discrimination but in forcing companies that implement discriminatory policies to mend their ways, or at least provide redress for those whose rights have been violated.