China - Excessive police force against workers seeking compensation for occupational disease

On 7 November 2018, police in Shenzen used pepper spray on a group of protesters suffering from the occupational disease pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung disease. In a video circulating on Chinese social media, some of the workers, already debilitated by the fatal illness, were seen falling to the ground, as they could not breathe. In a separate video, a worker’s hand was seen bleeding as a colleague off camera condemned the use of force against them.
Around 200 pneumoconiosis workers and family members from Leiyang, Sangzhi and Milu in the Hunan province had arrived in Shenzhen on 5 November and gathered at the local offices of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MOHRSS).
The workers had been seeking compensation since 2009. The complication was that workers in China’s construction sector often have no labour contracts, and it was therefore difficult for them to prove they were employed in Shenzhen. The workers presented a detailed three-stage occupational disease severity scale with corresponding compensation, with an emphasis on paying the worker as soon as pneumoconiosis is diagnosed, without needing to establish a prior employment relationship.
Pneumoconiosis is the most prevalent occupational disease in China, but due to complicated bureaucratic procedures and employer influence, it is notoriously difficult for workers to get an official diagnosis of occupational disease.
To add insult to injury, the workers found that hotels nearby had been instructed not to take their bookings and their ID cards seemed to be on a blacklist. They were able to meet ministry representatives, but officials insisted it was essential to establish labour relations before paying workers compensation as stipulated by insurance regulations; otherwise, workers are only entitled to receive relief handouts. No agreement was reached, and the workers vowed to continue their protest, the China Labour Bulletin reported.

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