Lai Huiqin (2nd L) helps migrant workers copy their ID cards as they turn to her to resolve disputes with labor contractors at the Mass Concerns Service Hall of Zhaoshang Subdistrict in Nanshan District on May 31. Liu Xudong
Wearing a black one-piece, a pair of kitten heels, light make-up and a Shenzhen community worker’s iconic red vest, Lai Huiqin was conspicuously surrounded by a crowd of fretful construction workers who desperately needed an answer to resolve their wage disputes, and they all pinned their hopes on Lai to mediate with the labor contractors and get their money back.
May 31 was just a typical day for Lai’s 20 years as a community mediator in Zhaoshang Subdistrict, Nanshan District. Lai told Shenzhen Daily in an interview that she has great faith in and passion for mediation work and is happy to do her part to build a more stable and harmonious community.
The 51-year-old, who is affectionately called “Sister Lai” by the community’s residents to show their trust and respect, was rehired by Zhaoshang Subdistrict after retirement last December to head the “Huiqin Mediation Room” which is named after her.
During Lai’s 20 years working in the community, she received over 130 thank-you pennants from residents and helped her community avoid major petitions and criminal cases in the last three years. In 2020, the Ministry of Justice awarded Lai the title of “National Model People’s Mediator.”
As Nanshan District’s first mediation room named after an individual, since last December, the “Huiqin Mediation Room” has successfully resolved 56 major mass cases involving an amount of nearly 20 million yuan (US$2.98 million) and 739 people, with success rates reaching 100%.
Lai told Shenzhen Daily that she mainly deals with labor disputes which are often complex and involve multiple parties, however, she said she is “always calm and undaunted” facing such circumstances. “I am an outgoing and optimistic person, so I can always stay quiet and calm when handling disputes,” Lai said, adding that her veteran father also had a great impact on how she handles resolving problems.
“My father used to be a soldier and he is my role model. Ever since I was a child, I started to see how composed he was when dealing with emergencies and accidents in the mine where he used to work, and how he treated relatives of the victims involved.”
Despite having no legal background, Lai has her own secrets to successful mediation. Lai said she always puts herself in others’ shoes and is active to ask what people need. “I would ask what they want before their emotions take over and they start to behave irrationally. By asking them first, I want them to feel that someone is trying to help,” Lai explained.
In face of irritable migrant workers who demand immediate solutions to their conflicts, Lai would treat them with snacks and drinks to try to pacify them and ask them to call her “Sister Lai” to open up their hearts. Additionally, Lai also tries to communicate with migrant workers in Hakka, Cantonese, Sichuan and Hunan dialects to show friendliness.
Lai believes that mediation is not a one-size-fits-all approach but should be adjusted for the parties involved. She cited an example of using her own experience to persuade two mothers to come to terms with each other when a kid’s tooth was knocked off while playing with the other.
When a negotiation comes to a deadlock in which all the parties are not willing to give way, Lai would talk with them separately and ask for their demands to make things easier.
Lai told Shenzhen Daily that at the “Huiqin Mediation Room,” it’s not just her who is making efforts, but her whole team including her section chief, colleagues and lawyers are doing their parts.
Lai said when she feels stressful, frustrated and exhausted at work, she would go jogging, window shopping, chatting with her son or cook to let off steam.
In 1989, Lai came to Shenzhen from her hometown in the city of Heyuan, Guangdong Province. She has been working as a community worker in Zhaoshang Subdistrict since 2002. Lai said she will focus on nurturing a team of community mediators by passing on her experience and tactics to the younger generation.