Legal action by sanitation workers in Hunan forces government to improve conditions

28 December 2015

Lawsuits filed by sanitation workers in the central province of Hunan have reportedly forced the provincial government to issue a directive calling on administrative and trade union officials to step up their efforts to improve pay, working conditions and job security for street cleaners.

The directive calls on officials to ensure that companies bidding for local government cleaning contracts address several key issues that have plagued the industry for many years; namely, a lack of formal employment contracts, unpaid social security contributions and overtime pay, the local Xiaoxiang Morning News reported on 15 December.

Photo of Hunan street cleaner from

Li Wenying, a lawyer who has represented worker plaintiffs in 17 such cases over the last three years, claimed that it was pressure from workers’ lawsuits that had forced the government to act:

“They have realised how much they will have to pay if such illegal work practices continue,” she said. “This new policy means that workers currently employed don’t have to follow in their predecessors’ footsteps and risk dismissal with minimal compensation.”

The directive called for wages and benefits to be improved through “collective wage consultations,” however the provincial trade union federation has not yet disclosed exactly how this will be done.

Li Wenying suggested that the trade union could play a more positive role: “As far as I know, the union didn’t offer any help when a group of sanitation workers in Changsha’s Yuelu District were in dispute a couple of months ago. Many workplaces in this industry don’t even have unions but the sanitation workers do need to join them,” she said.

So far this year, there have been at least 49 strikes and protests staged by sanitation workers across the country, according to China Labour Bulletin’s Strike Map.

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