Wal-mart cashier leads fight against reform she sees unfair

By Li Qian Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/3 5:03:39 Last Updated: 2017/3/4 6:41:39

Liang Yinying. Photo: Courtesy of Liang Yinying

At a plenary staff meeting in the supermarket where Liang Yinying works as a cashier, she was the first to question a reform to working hours.

She's not content with the reform that the Wal-mart store number 3404 in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, is implementing, and believes that she, as a veteran member of staff who has worked there for 13 years, has the right to say no.

It was a nationwide reform, covering all Wal-mart stores in China since last June, that will allow the stores' management to extend an employee' daily working hours, as long as the combined weekly hours doesn't exceed 44.

China's Labor Law limits the working hours to no more than eight a day and a maximum of 44 per week. However, labor experts say as long as employers reach an agreement with the employees, it can proceed without legal intervention.

But Liang believes such flexible working hours is only for the benefit of the employers. "On busy days they can ask us to work 11 hours, and maybe four or five hours on slow days," she said.

Until now, everyone has signed the revised contract with the HR of her store except Liang. She said nationwide about 30 or so employees haven't signed, as they are all in a WeChat group.

The HR has met with her 21 times since then.

"They said the development of a company can't stop for only one or two people, but I request negotiations on an equal footing," she said. Liang claimed she has since been targeted by the company's administration staff.

In December, Liang was moved to greet customers at the door from the cashier post where she had been for 13 years. She sees it as retaliation against her, though there was no change in her salary.

Liang said being a cashier is her favorite job. During the span of her career, she has earned all the awards and honors a cashier could get from the company, titles like "Smiling ambassador," "Five-star cashier," "Staff of excellence," among others.

A worker pushes shopping carts at a Wal-mart store in Shantou, Guangdong Province. Photo: CFP

Pressure to quit

Since the row over the reform, she has not been scheduled to work on public holidays. Working on public holidays in China earns triple the hourly pay, and many employees vie for the chance.

Soon afterwards, for the first time, the company issued notices of misdeed to her.

These are usually issued by Wal-mart to employees who violate corporate regulations, and after receiving two written notices, the company can dismiss the employee. Liang has received at least six notices so far, she said, but she still hasn't been fired.

Her records shown on the notices include refusing to take a business trip to another city and others. Liang says she did refuse to go on the trip, but insists these accusations against her are unfounded or unreasonable, and that's why Wal-mart dare not fire her.

"They [the company] said I should sue if I'm not happy with their regulations, and told me that they have a team that looks after legal affairs for the company," Liang said.

Low-level workers like her don't have the ability or the know-how to fight for their rights against big companies, and Wal-mart just wants to pressure her into quitting her job, she said.

Many of her coworkers who have signed the revised contract did so without full knowledge of what it means, or have been pressured to do so, she said. Some of her coworkers reached out to her in private and encouraged her to continue the fight.

Unique mission

Liang has felt tremendous pressure due to the conflict with her employer, and has since been suffering from high blood pressure as a result of mental abuse at work, she claimed. But, she sounds upbeat as she talks about the process. She stresses that she was born a Christian and has spiritual support because of her faith.

It enabled her to speak out against what she believes are unfair policies, she said.

Liang's parents are all Protestants and she said she was devoted to God from a very young age.

Her husband and her 17-year-old son support what she does, but her two younger sisters are worried for her. Both of her sisters run their own businesses and drive luxury cars, but she is content with the grass-roots work as a cashier.

"I'm the only one in my family who works as an employee, but I never see myself as a grass-roots person. Everyone in this world has a unique mission. Brilliant people may be the eyes of the society. I may be weak, so let me be a finger or toe, just do my best," she said.

Even though she is caught up in this labor dispute, she doesn't hate the HR or the managers of her company, but said she pities them. "At this moment, they represent the capitalists and are just trying to make their own living."

Liang said Wal-mart only wants her to accept the new policy and leaves no bargaining space for her, but her bottom line is that she will not sign the "unjust contract." She insists the company should compensate her if it wants to proceed the reform, but can't specify what kind of compensation she wants.

If Wal-mart doesn't stop trying to bend her, there could only be one outcome, she predicts, her being dismissed by the company using crooked means. But she said she's not afraid, as it's her "mission."

"In the end, I will ascend to heaven. That's for sure," she said.

Newspaper headline: Corporate challenger

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