Guanzghou (AsiaNews) - The Communist Congress which just
ended proclaimed impressive slogans in favor of the labor force in China, which
according to leadership is the "true hero" of the national economic
miracle. Yet the situation of internal migrants, a silent army that across the
nation comprises between 250 and 300 million workers, is dramatic. Between
work-related accidents, mutilations and social discrimination, these workers
are paying for everone.
One of the most dramatic cases of recent times, reported the South
China Morning Post, is that of Ou Changqun: while working
at a heavy metal factory two years ago she was involved in an accident that
tore off her arm. After 7 operations what remained was a disabled right arm and
a hospital bill to pay: "Immediately after the accident I went into a coma
due to excessive bleeding, and stayed in an intensive care unit for three days.
I had not signed a labour contract with the factory owner, so my expenses were
not paid by the company."
Her employer even went so far as to suspend her medical
treatment for the first emergency interventions: "I was forced to petition
the local government for a year before getting justice." She worked six
days a week, 9 hours a day for four years, earning 2,000 yuan per month (about
190 euro). But the cost of her operations reached 120,000 yuan, paid by her
employer only after a year and a half of continuous legal battles. Now she does
not know what will happen, because with she is unable to work with only one
He Xiaobo is a trade unionist who lost three fingers in an
industrial accident in Foshan in 2006: "Ou's story is typical of millions
of migrant workers who have been disabled working in the cities of Guangdong in
the last 30 years. Dongguan and Foshan are the cities with the highest
incidence of serious cases, and for this reason have huge surgical departments,
especially for hand and arm reattachment surgery. Each year in Foshan alone
there are at least 50,000 violent incidents, three times the government's
Liu Kaiming, director of the Institute for Contemporary
Observation in Shenzhen, has done field research according to which at least
60,000 migrant workers - out of a total of 30 million in the province - are disabled
every year on the job: "The number of new disabled workers in Shenzhen is
around 12,000 per year, plus those of other industrial cities. But even
experienced labour rights experts have underestimated the serious work injury
situation in Guangdong."
According to the Ministry of Human Resources and Social
Security, in China there are presently 8.2 million persons disabled as a result
of workplace accidents. Official figures show that the majority of them live in
the southern province, which last year furnished 2.9 million of them with
medical and living expense subsidies. In 2009, according to the government,
175,602 migrants were wounded: 18% of the national total.
According to trade unionists in Hong Kong, however, these
numbers are incorrect because they include only those who have reached an
agreement of some kind with the employer for compensation after being injured.
Chris Chan King-chi, a sociologist at the University of Hong Kong City, says
that in the "black factories" - those unregistered, illegal or too
small to be considered by the government - the incidents are not reported.
The hospital numbers confirm this terrible trend. Yu Wenxue,
director of the private Nanhai hospital of Foshan, explains that he receives
each day between 100 and 200 workers who have been injured in the assembly
lines. All available beds were fully booked for the entire year: "99% of
our patients are immigrants." In seven years, the Shunde Heping surgical
hospital has increased the number of its beds from 30 to 660; in 2004 it
operated on the fingers or hands of 3,000 people, and the number grows by 25%
The cost of the operations, however, risks distancing many
migrants from the possibility to return to a normal life. Reattaching a finger
costs between 20-30,000 yuan, while for more difficult cases requiring several
operations, the cost comes to 150,000 yuan. Most migrant workers earn at most
1,800 yuan per month, which includes the several hours of overtime every day;
in addition, most employers refuse to provide compensation for injuries.
Zhou Litai, a lawyer, has been fighting for the rights of
migrants since the mid-90s and has taken part in more than 3,000 lawsuits
against companies that refused to pay what was due: "More than 10,000
migrant workers lose their fingers and hands in Shenzhen's Baoan and Longgang
districts each year. In the late 1990s, the labour laws only required factory
owners to pay 33,000 yuan as compensation." Since then the price has gone
up to 500,000 yuan for the most serious cases, but the workers have to wait an
average of 1,074 days before getting their due.