Laid off construction worker fighting lone battle for the rule of law

11 June 2012

In 2007, a construction company in the eastern coastal province of Shandong placed an advertisement in a local newspaper announcing the dismissal more than 100 of its employees. The workers did not receive any compensation and sought redress from the local authorities. None was forthcoming.

As time went by, most of the workers gave up the fight for compensation but one worker, Pan Fenggang, was determined to carry on. Four years later in 2011, he was the last man standing and had already become quite a thorn in the side of the local authorities. He had filed numerous lawsuits and his Internet posts on the company’s alleged malfeasance and government collusion were regularly censored. He did however manage to talk to China Labour Bulletin Director Han Dongfang about his long-running dispute and the obstacles he had faced getting even a fraction of the compensation he was claiming.

Pan claimed that the construction company had violated central government regulations by dismissing him and his colleagues via an announcement in the media. The district labour bureau in the city of Linyi disagreed with him and ruled that the sackings were lawful, so Pan took the labour bureau to court.

He first sought an administrative review of the Lanshan District Labour and Social Security Bureau’s decision. When that failed, he filed an administrative lawsuit. The district court accepted the case but upheld the labour bureau’s decision. Pan appealed to the Linyi Municipal Intermediate People’s Court but with the same result. This was in the spring of 2011. Pan then tried the Linyi Municipal Procuratorate but was told his complaint was insufficiently argued and not very logical.

Pan had hired a lawyer to help him through the legal process but said he was of little real value:

In China, lawyers can help us obtain evidence and speak for us, but they do not dare to challenge the court.

He also complained that the collusion between his former employer and local officials had effectively stymied his legal action.

The greatest hurdle in my fight for labour rights is collusion. Before I even approached the authorities to complain, the company had already got to them.

Even though Pan claimed that had been fired illegally, he did not want to get his job back; rather he wanted to be dismissed through proper channels and be given the compensation, pension and a certificate of unemployment that he was entitled to.

To get a job in a big corporation, I must prove that I have properly terminated previous employment contracts. I am now 42 years old; it is not easy to be employed again. Maybe I will start my own business.

Pan first joined Shandong Lüban Construction as a water and electrical installation worker in 1989. He signed three employment contracts with the company up until 1999 when he said Lüban stopped signing formal contracts and only gave employees letters of appointment. After being employed for some 18 years, Pan estimated that he was owed about 180,000 yuan when he was terminated. However, the company was only willing to offer him 110,000 yuan plus part of his pension. Feeling exhausted by the endless legal proceedings, Pan eventually accepted the compromise offer in 2011:

I was quite tired at that time, so I accepted the offer. They gave me 50,000 yuan after the agreement was finalised. It has already been three months, and the balance is nowhere to be seen.

At the time of the interview in late 2011, Pan was still trying to claim the outstanding 60,000 yuan he was promised by the company.

This interview was first broadcast on Radio Free Asia's劳工通讯in four episodes in September 2011.

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