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2016-11-04 11:52:57

A court victory for a woman who was fired for having a second baby could offer hope for others caught up in the untangling of China’s one-child policy. 

The woman, surnamed Huang, was fired in January by her employer, Hangzhou Liwu Electromechanical Co. The company claimed that Huang was dismissed for violating China’s family planning laws by giving birth to a second child last November, court documents revealed

China announced changes to its family planning policy in October; the new law that came into effect in January allowed couples to have two children. Prior to that, most families were limited to only one child under population control policies dating back to the 1970s. Those laws were revised in December 2013, when the country started allowing couples to have a second child if either parent was an only child — criteria that Huang’s family did not meet. 

Huang took the company to court in January, and a verdict was handed down in July ordering Huang’s employer to pay Huang nearly 90,000 yuan (more than $13,000) in compensation.

Full details of the case only came to light when Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper reached out to Huang’s lawyer, Zhao Lili, earlier this week. Huang has repeatedly turned down requests for interviews in the past. In a follow-up telephone interview on Friday, Zhao told Sixth Tone that Hangzhou Liwu had not appealed the verdict. Sixth Tone’s calls to the company on Friday afternoon went unanswered. 

Zhao said that corporations are only responsible for obeying the country’s Labor Contract Law and other labor statutes, and don’t have the right to punish employees for violating national family planning regulations.

Different rules apply to civil servants, according to Wu Youshui, a lawyer who specializes in family planning policy-related cases. “Employers could cite reasons like [breach of] party discipline to fire anyone who might have violated family planning rules,” Wu told Sixth Tone, adding that it was “almost impossible” for fired civil servants to bring such cases to court.

Huang’s decision could offer hope to other parents across China who have lost their jobs for having a second child. Party newspaper Global Times reported that in August this year, around 20 people from eastern China’s Shandong and Jiangxi provinces and southern China’s Guangdong and Guangxi provinces gathered in Beijing to petition for their jobs to be returned to them. In response, representatives from the National Health and Family Planning Commission asserted that “the national law doesn’t have provisions for firing violators” and advised petitioners to turn to local authorities for help.

After the revision of China’s family planning laws at the start of this year, 29 of the 31 provinces and autonomous regions had adapted their local family planning policies to allow two children per couple, according to statistics from state newspaper Legal Daily. However, seven of the 29 still state in their local policies that companies can fire employees for giving birth to more children than the national law allows. These provinces include Hainan, Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Guizhou, Yunnan, and Guangdong.

In July, Sixth Tone reported on several cases in Guangdong province in which families were told to have abortions or risk losing their jobs.

The case of the Hangzhou Liwu employee is not the first of its kind to receive a ruling in favor of the dismissed worker, the lawyer Wu said. In 2015, Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court revealed that it had been dealing with a growing number of cases involving employees fired for disobeying family planning laws, and that most verdicts were decided in favor of the employees. 

However, he cited the case of one of his clients in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, who lost a similar case last year because the client’s labor contract included an article stipulating that employees would be dismissed for violation of family planning rules. 

Wu said a judge could still choose to rule against the employer regardless of such a clause in an employment contract. “It’s a pity that many employers and employees have limited awareness that companies actually don’t have the right to fire people for having more children,” Wu said.

“With more successful cases like Huang’s, people will increasingly become aware,” added Wu. “Reproductive rights are a type of basic right that citizens enjoy, and we need to defend our rights.” 

Additional reporting by Lin Qiqing.

(Header image: A mother holds her baby boy while her daughter sleeps nearby, Xian, Shaanxi province, July 27, 2016. Chen Feibo/VCG)