Three women in China, all fired earlier this year while they were either expecting or nursing, united to pursue arbitration against the Chinese logistics firm that employed them, in what appears to be a rare instance of a joint action by pregnant women over workers’ rights.
One of the women has already emerged victorious from her battle with the company, a lawyer for the women told Quartz, fueling hope of decisions in favor of the other two women as well. Those are expected later this month. The win was first reported by Chinese-language newspaper Beijing News.
Huang Sha, the lawyer for the three women, told Quartz that his clients were let go in February by a Beijing-based warehouse management company. He said they filed arbitration requests the same month to a government-affiliated, district-level labor and personnel dispute arbitration committee, after they were fired for not being present at work. The warehouse management company is a subsidiary of the Beijing-based China Railway Logistics Group that operates over 5,000 warehouses (link in Chinese) in multiple countries including the US, the UK, and Russia.
Ahead of the firing, the company cut the salaries of the three women by half in December 2016, citing operational difficulties, according to Beijing News. The women, who were either pregnant or nursing at that time, found they were the only ones in the company to have the salary deductions. They brought the matter to their superiors. Soon they found their company log-in accounts and fingerprint check-in information, used for registering attendance, had been disabled.
One of the three women was awarded compensation of around 10,000 yuan ($1,500) in November in arbitration. The amount of money was equivalent to about a month’s pay to her.
The company initially appealed but last week it dropped the appeal, Huang said. While still employed, the woman, a customer service manager, had recorded her conversations with the company’s management and taken photos that showed her presence at work, which helped prove that her firing was discriminatory, explained Huang.
The two other women, one a data center manager and the other a customer service director, are applying for compensation of around 150,000 yuan ($22,700).
Executives from China Railway Logistics Group couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
It’s not uncommon to see individuals in China reporting discrimination at work during pregnancy, but it’s rare to have a collective action, Huang told Quartz. In China, the cost of labor legal actions, such as arbitration or a lawsuit, are too high for the average worker to pursue, he said over the phone.
“To our knowledge, this is the first collective case,” Keegan Elmer, a labor researcher at China Labor Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based workers’ rights advocacy group that tracks China’s labor issues closely, said in an email to Quartz. “Previous pregnancy-related discrimination cases have only been individual ones.”
In September 2013, an employee won an arbitration (link in Chinese) over pregnancy discrimination against Meituan (now known as Meituan Waimai), one of the most popular food delivery apps in China, Beijing-based China Women’s News reported. The company fired the woman in May that year for violating company regulations and labor rules after she repeated requests to eat meals on time and not do overtime during her pregnancy. When asked for comment, Meituan’s founder Wang Xing told the publication that the company was addressing the situation.