Held once every two years as a joint programme of the ACFTU, the Ministry of Justice and the All-China Lawyers Association, the National Awards for Outstanding Lawyers Protecting Workers’ Rights and Interests were first presented in 2006. April 2015 saw the start of the latest selection process, with ten government and non-government lawyers set to receive the honorary title of National Outstanding Lawyer Protecting Workers’ Rights and Interests and being awarded the First of May Labour Medal.
An ACFTU spokesperson explains that the qualities commemorated by this year’s awards are excellence, novelty and transparency, with only the best being selected. The selection criteria are strict. To be considered, candidates must “have taken on a certain number of labour dispute cases and protected workers’ rights and interests effectively” and “have an outstanding and active social influence nationwide”. The procedures involved are innovative but simple. Candidates can either be recommended by others or put their own names forward. Those previously honoured with the title are able to participate again this year. Transparency is especially emphasized and public participation is welcome. With the exception of the assessment of candidates’ qualifications, investigation of performance and re-examination procedures, the results will be published in national newspapers and websites to ensure the process is seen to be fair and just.
Since the awards began, 40 outstanding lawyers have been selected for the First of May Labour Medal because of their commitment to solving labour disputes and protecting workers’ legitimate rights and interests. They are appointed by trade unions to head up legal teams and legal aid centres and participate in the handling of major cases, actively promote legislation and raise awareness of legal issues, providing workers with an “umbrella of protection”. An example is Tong Lihua, one of the inaugural winners of the award, who established the first public interest organization devoted to providing legal aid for migrant workers in China. Beijing Zhicheng Public Interest Lawyers have managed to retrieve the back pay owed to over 20,000 migrant workers, to the value of some 180 million yuan (about US$ 29 million).
Outstanding lawyers are tasked by the ACFTU with stepping up the provision of public interest legal services, including legal advice on significant cases related to the rights and interests of workers and trade unions, participating in case resolution and supervision activities in the labour law field, assisting trade unions with legal education campaigns, and making full use of their role in protecting workers’ rights and interests and constructing harmonious labour relations.
The specific selection criteria and application and recommendation procedures as well as the recommendation forms are available on the official websites of the ACFTU, the Ministry of Justice, the All-China Lawyers Association and workercn.cn.