Workers warned over amateur advocates
The growing number of workers involved in labor disputes are being warned to watch out for unlicensed "labor rights defenders."After being disappointed by a non-lawyer "defender," 27 rural migrant workers from a timber mill in Songjiang District had to turn to the district's legal aid center for help. They eventually received compensation totaling 310,000 yuan (US$45,419) from a factory that dismissed them, but the earlier botched case proved costly, the Youth Daily reported yesterday.For the past five years, the factory never paid overtime for weekend work and paid social insurance for only two years, the paper said. Although the workers believed the conditions were unfair, they remained silent for fear of losing their jobs.When the factory declared it would move to Zhejiang Province and the workers would lose their jobs, they decided to go to the district's labor arbitration department to complain."I clearly remember that when we stood at the entrance of the labor department, we were quite lost. We saw so many people in the hall and didn't know where to appeal," said He Hongfei, one of the workers."But a man came up and told us he would help. He guided us in filling out the application forms and answered almost all the questions on litigation that we asked. His friendly service led us to decide to allow him to deal completely with our litigation procedures."The workers then agreed to pay 15 percent of their award compensation to the "defender.""The man went through all procedures hastily," He said. "We failed to win, as he provided little evidence."The workers were later introduced to the district legal aid center. Yang Yongwei, a lawyer at the center, finally helped them win their case. But the ending was bittersweet."In fact, they could have received twice as much," Yang said. "But they applied only for social insurance, overtime pay and a little economic compensation at first. I could only appeal in line with the original application."Officials reminded workers to only use legal channels to protect their labor rights.