By Jennifer Cheung
Around 60 healthcare workers have been protesting on the steps of the Guangzhou Chinese Medicine University Hospital for 47 days now demanding social insurance contributions that are about a dozen years in arrears.
The workers had been laid off on 1 March without any compensation. Feeling desperate, they started gathering outside the hospital in mid-May to demand proper compensation and payment of the social insurance contributions that had never been made in their more than ten years’ employment at the hospital.
“We didn’t care about labour contracts or social insurance when we were young,” a 40-year-old worker told the Yangcheng Evening News. “Now that we are old and suffer from leg pains due to working so long, we realize that we do need social insurance.”
However, Yan Jin, deputy director of the hospital, told the newspaper that the hospital was unable to process the payments because it could not decide how the workers should be classified. The hospital wants the local labour bureau and arbitration committee to make a determination.
While some hospital healthcare workers are directly employed, most are employed by labour agencies or are technically self-employed. In this particular case, the healthcare workers did not have formal employment contracts with either the hospital or Kang Ning, the health care service provider and subsidiary owned by the hospital that paid their wages.
Despite the fact that Kang Ning paid the workers’ salary, it did not give them pay slips and so the workers did not hold any solid evidence to present at an arbitration hearing. The workers were therefore understandably reluctant to rely solely on formal legal proceedings when the company held all the evidence. They had seen several co-workers go through legal channels without much success and were not optimistic about their chances of winning.
“We have no option but to sit here,” they told the Yangcheng Evening News.
Zeng Feiyang, director of the Panyu Migrant Workers Service Centre, which is assisting the workers in their dispute, said that given that the healthcare workers were employed in the hospital, the hospital itself should shoulder the legal responsibility of paying their social insurance contributions. He further called on the Guangdong provincial trade union to intervene and start collective bargaining between the workers and hospital management.
Liu Xiaogang, former vice-president of the Guangzhou municipal trade union, also commented on his Weibo that the provincial union should intervene to protect the workers’ rights. “If the union doesn’t intervene, it will not be performing its duty,” Liu said on 21 June. As of now however it is understood that the provincial trade union has taken no action.
Meanwhile, the healthcare workers have elected five representatives who met with hospital managers on 28 June. According to sources familiar with the case, negotiations are still going on. Unlike many previous cases where management refused to acknowledge workers’ leaders and tried to retaliate against them, the Guangzhou hospital has at least accepted these five workers as legitimate representatives of their co-workers.
Hospital Deputy Director Yan meanwhile claimed that the dismissed workers could join another service contractor, which offers social insurance, or sign service agreements with patients directly, which may provide better pay but no social insurance.