08/12/2009, 00.00
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Story of Zhang, who has had to open up his chest to prove infirmity

Only thus could he be recognized as suffering from, but not compensated for, pneumoconiosis, a disease of the lungs from ingestion of dust. It is 'the most widespread occupational disease in China, with about 10 thousand new cases annually. Migrants are forced to work in mines and construction, without precautions.
Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) - More than a hundred workers staged a sit-in protest in front of City Hall Daozi (Hunan), in late July, asking for compensation for pneumoconiosis which they contracted from working on the city’s buildings and infrastructure. In boom time China  employers often try to get away with not recognizing serious illness caused by labourers forced to work without elementary health and safety precautions. This is the story of Zhang, who has had to open up his chest to prove he is suffering from this fatal disease.

Zhang Haichao, a 28 yyear old farmer from Henan worked for years at a abrasive materials factory in Xinmi, near the provincial capital Zhengzhou, breathing clouds of toxic dust on a daily basis. In the second half of 2007 he started to suffer from a constant cough and breathlessness. Several hospitals confirmed severe pneumoconiosis, a disease caused by the concentration of dust in the lungs causing a severe reduction in physical capacity and a decline in life expectancy.

When he went to seek compensation from the factory he discovered that all his medical records had disappeared and the company refused compensation. He turned to local medical authorities, but he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a lung disease of viral origin and not from dust  inhalation.

The workers protection website China Labor Bulletin points out that Zhang has protested this diagnosis, after the major hospitals in Beijing and Zhengzhou had found pneumoconiosis. So he was subject to a voluntary thoracotomy: the lungs were filled with dust and pneumoconiosis acknowledged.

Zhang still has not received compensation: he has a daughter of three and elderly parents to support, for medical visits he has spent 90 thousand Yuan and is in heavy debt.

According to official data, pneumoconiosis is today the most widespread and serious occupational disease in China, with between 7500 and 10 thousand new cases diagnosed each year, counting for over 75% of new diseases in the workplace. The phenomenon no longer only affects miners, but also builders who for years worked on the rapid construction of skyscrapers and streets without basic protection measures. In communist China, the ill have great difficulty in winning work related legal cases and gaining compensation.

In a recent open letter to the Committee of the Communist Party of Shenzhen, some workers complained of their sad situation, unable to work because of illness, forced to pay for expensive treatments, and without any  subsidy or compensation. The letter did not achieved great results: the municipal authorities offered only 30 thousand Yuan to each worker as compensation, without acknowledging their illness. The amount was refused by the workers, who are thinking about bringing a case against the local government, that they claim are only interested in financial gain and a rapid urban development, without meeting basic security standards at work.

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