Chinese union battles Wal-Mart in dispute over store closure

Chinese union battles Wal-Mart in dispute over store closure
File photo of Huang Xingguo talking to workers outside a closed Walmart store in Changde.

A two-day arbitration hearing over a dispute between Wal-Mart Stores Inc and a workers' union in Changde, Hunan province, ended on Tuesday with the giant retailer ordered to submit its plans for a settlement by Friday.

The dispute, in which a trade union is representing workers against their employer, is one of the first of its kind on the Chinese mainland.

Huang Xingguo, chairman of the workers' union for Wal-Mart's Changde store, said 69 of 135 of the store's former employees have asked the union to help them seek greater compensation from the retailer after it announced on March 5 that the underperforming store would be shut down in two weeks.

According to a plan laid out by Wal-Mart, employees at the Changde store could transfer to work at any other Wal-Mart outlet or be compensated with one-month's pay for each year on the job plus one extra month.

Huang said the retailer failed to officially notify the trade union about the store's closure in a timely manner, as stipulated by law, and did not effectively communicate with the store's workers about the shutdown.

"We are not just fighting to double the existing compensation, but also for our dignity," said Huang. "We hope it is a chance to push employers to consider workers' rights more seriously in their decision-making."

Huang said he is determined to protect the rights of the workers even though his own friends and family members have expressed doubt that his decision to defend the workers will amount to anything.

"We are waiting for results from the arbitration hearing. Even if just one of our workers feels unsatisfied with the results, we will fight to the end," he said.

Liang Yuehua, an assistant store manager at the Changde outlet before it closed in March, said he signed the retailer's compensation deal on March 13 but soon regretted the decision and turned to the trade union for help.

"The regional human resource manager from Changsha gave me two options - relocate to the Changsha store without a pay raise or leave the company with a stipulated compensation without any room for negotiation," the 34-year-old said.

Liang had worked in various Wal-Mart stores in Hunan and Guangdong provinces for 13 years, including five years at the Changde outlet. Under the agreement he signed, he was paid for 14 months at his salary rate.

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