An introduction to CLB's labour rights litigation work

07 January 2009

China Labour Bulletin advocates and promotes the peaceful resolution of labour disputes through legal channels. To this end, we provide workers who cannot afford legal and court fees, and who have a legitimate grievance, with a determined and effective representation throughout the judicial process, as well as in mediation and arbitration hearings. This approach is designed not only to help individual workers obtain redress but also to encourage the long-term development of civil society and the rule of law.

CLB began its labour rights litigation work in 2003, and now manages one of the largest such programs in mainland China, run in conjunction with law firms and non-governmental organizations, as well as individual lawyers, across the country.

The majority of CLB’s cases are related to the non-payment of wages, overtime, pension, redundancy etc, while a significant number are concerned with workplace discrimination and work-related injury and illness, and occasionally, when worker activists have been arrested or detained, in criminal defense. Worker plaintiffs have been successful in a very high percentage these cases, largely because the cases we accept involve clear-cut rights violations of labour rights, and because the legal representatives we provide are experts in their field. It is important to note however that China’s legal system still has many pitfalls, and all too often workers can not even get their case accepted in a court of law let alone win it. See CLB’s introduction to China’s labour dispute resolution system.

The number of disputes between employees and employers in China has increased dramatically over the last few years, particularly since the implementation of new labour legislation and the impact of the global economic crisis in 2008. The labour rights case volume of the country’s arbitration committees and the civil courts both doubled in 2008. And CLB likewise saw a big jump in our caseload, peaking in 2008 when we took on nearly 600 new cases, concluded 430, and obtained compensation and other benefits in excess of 10 million yuan for the worker plaintiffs.

In 2009, we reduced our caseload and started to focus more on public interest lawsuits that help raise public awareness of specific labour issues and push the government towards legal reform and policy change. Public interest lawsuits may not be as successful, in the immediate term, as routine labour dispute cases, but in the long-term they can play a critical role in promoting social and legal change. For example, a string of anti-HBV discrimination lawsuits over the last five years eventually led to China’s Ministry of Public Health announcing in October 2009 that the mandatory testing of new employees for HBV would be discontinued.

Finally, CLB believes it is crucial that local governments rigorously enforce the country’s labour laws. If government departments are negligent in their duty of enforcement, CLB encourages workers to file administrative lawsuits against them. In this way, local government officials will be made fully aware of their legal duties and responsibilities and hopefully act accordingly.

To examine in more detail CLB’s legal case work to date, please browse the case categories listed below:
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