Huawei invites detained former employee to sue

03 December 2019

Telecom giant Huawei has urged former employee, Li Hongyuan, who was detained in Shenzhen for eight months on extortion charges, to sue the company if he feels his rights have been violated.

In a statement issued on Monday evening, the company told The Paper that it has the right and the responsibility to report any suspected illegal activities to the authorities and that Huawei encouraged Li to use any and all legal measures, including suing the company, in order to safeguard his own rights.

Li’s wife told The Paper however that they had no immediate plans to sue Huawei and just wanted an apology.

Huawei has faced widespread criticism on social media in China for its handling of the Li Hongyuan case and its statement on Monday has not improved its image. Much of the online criticism has now been deleted by the censors.

Huawei and other major technology companies were already under fire for promoting the so-called 996 work culture that forces employees to work excessively long hours, and this latest incident has only reconfirmed existing opinions about the abusive work practices of these corporations.

Li Hongyuan’s ordeal began in early 2018 when Huawei decided not to renew his employment contract. Li, who had been working for the company and its subsidiaries for 12 years, negotiated a mutually agreed severance package of around 300,000 yuan after tax.

The settlement was paid through a private account rather than a corporate account. This was queried by Li at the time but he was not given a satisfactory explanation and he assumed it was some kind of tax dodge. Li then asked for his 200,000 yuan year-end bonus to be paid but the company reportedly refused on the grounds of poor performance.

Soon afterwards, in December 2018, Huawei reported Li to the Shenzhen police and he was arrested. Li was initially accused of leaking confidential company material but was later accused of extortion. He was eventually released after 251 days in detention because of “unclear criminal facts and insufficient evidence,” according to court documents that Li posted online.

Huawei has used a heavy-handed approach to employee relations for many years now. In 2007, for example, the company forced thousands of long-term employees to resign and re-join the company on short-term contracts so that it would not be bound by the unlimited contract provisions of the Labour Contract Law due to go into effect the following year.

Around the same time, there was a rash of suicides or unexplained deaths at the company which gave rise to criticism of Huawei’s so-called “wolf culture,” which encouraged employees to dedicate all their energy to the benefit of the company.

Huawei employees are undoubtedly very well paid but clearly the cost for many employees is too high. For Li Hongyuan, the intense pressure generated by the case has reportedly now forced him to leave Shenzhen and return to his home town.

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