Walmart’s plan to cull an entire layer of management from about 150 stores nationwide may have stalled temporarily but many employees fear the company will simply find another way of removing unwanted staff.

In media interviews and blog posts, employees have condemned Walmart’s attempted lay-offs and voiced concern that its in-store unions simply don’t have the power to stop the company from executing its so called “optimization” plan at a later date in one form or another.

A former union representative at Walmart’s Shenzhen store, Xiao Dai, told China Enterprise News that: “In Walmart, unions do not represent workers’ interests; whoever represents the workers will be dismissed.”

He revealed that of the seven union committee members in his store, two were elected by the staff, the other five were appointed by the company. The union chairman was an assistant manager in the human resources department who “rarely took the side of employees.” Xiao Dai drafted an appeal to remove the union chairman, which was signed by over 40 employees. Soon afterwards, Xiao Dai was fired for a “cash-register mistake.”

Article 41 of the Labour Contract Law states that companies planning to lay off more than 20 staff should inform the union of the plan within 30 days. Walmart did not inform the union of its “optimization” plan, it simply told the affected employees that they had three options; transfer to another store, accept a demotion and pay cut, or resign.

Walmart claimed that it did have to inform the union because its optimization plan did not specify lay-offs. A report in the Guangzhou Daily on 4 May said Walmart’s actions typified the “dirty tricks” used by employers to covertly lay-off staff and thereby circumvent provisions of the Labour Contract Law and other laws designed to protect workers’ interests.

The newspaper listed the most commonly used methods to facilitate stealth lay-offs:

* Eliminating or reducing benefits, for example, canceling free transport to and from work, or introducing charges for previously free meals.

* Transferring staff to other cities or positions within the enterprise.

* Placing staff on extended unpaid leave.

* Rising the standards of employee evaluation to impossibly high levels.

* Imposing harsh rules and codes of conduct, such as “using a cellphone or gossiping during work hours more than once will lead to revocation of the employment contract.”

The Guangzhou Daily report is line with a recent blog entitled Why is the boss so heartless, which listed a series of complaints the blogger had received from factory workers, mainly young women, harassed, pressured and cajoled into resigning by their bosses. In all cases, the bosses sought to get workers to resign, so that they would not have to pay the compensation required under the Labour Contract Law if they fired them.

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