Court judgments in labor cases hard to enforce

An interesting report by court officials in Jilin Province, who examined the 2,257 labor dispute cases decided there in 2014, underlines some of the obstacles faced by workers in using the legal system to enforce their rights.  First, this can be a long process.  Nearly half of labor arbitrations will be appealed to court, and a high number of first-instance court decisions will be appealed to the higher court.  The analysis shows that only 42% of labor cases handled by the courts are first trials; more than half are appeals, re-trials, or enforcement actions.  By contrast, 69% of all civil cases in Jilin are first trials.  The report also highlights the difficulties workers have in enforcing the court judgments they obtain: 30% of all labor cases were enforcement proceedings, compared with 19% of all civil cases.  This phenomenon has been documented elsewhere, including a 2012 study by a Beijing legal aid NGO reporting that only 36.1% of the judgments it obtained were voluntarily enforced by the employer, 6.9% were partially enforced, and court enforcement was sought in 57% of cases.  The Jilin study also revealed that after removing the sizeable number of “withdrawn” cases from the sample, workers received a “total win” in 44% of cases that were adjudicated but a “partial win/loss” or “total loss” in 56% of cases.  Part of the reason may be that roughly half of workers lacked a legal representative and, of those who did, only one-third had a private lawyer.  The remainder was represented by government-appointed legal aid lawyers (25%), basic-level legal workers (24%), barefoot lawyers (13%), or legal volunteers (2%).  A final interesting point is the regional variation that exists in labor disputes.  In the Guangdong courts, 34% of labor disputes involved termination issues and 31% involved unpaid wages.  However, in Jilin, as is probably more representative of the rest of the country, 83% of labor cases involved unpaid wages.  A special thank you to Susan Finder of the Supreme People’s Court Monitor blog for passing along this report.  See her post on data concerning labor disputes in the SPC’s annual report here.