In a deepening crackdown, the Chinese government has been detaining workers and activists who advocate for labour rights amid a far-reaching health crisis.
In July 2018, a group of Chinese workers sought to form an autonomous labour union but the request was denied by the state-run labour unions and their company, the Shenzhen Jasic Technology Corporation. Dozens of people, including labour activists and university students who supported the new union, have gone missing or been detained ever since. They have been accused of crimes varying from ‘disrupting public order’ to ‘picking quarrels’ ever since.
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In China, forming an independent labour union is banned, as the law states that workers should affiliate with the government-controlled All-China Federation of Trade Unions. Human rights organisations have been calling on the Chinese government to ratify the law to allow freedom of association. A recent Human Rights Watch report said that the Chinese government prosecuted the labour rights activists who advocated for millions of Chinese workers rights, instead of helping the workers who suffer from illnesses after working unprotected in coal mines or construction sites.
Poor working conditions
Workers and activists have been demanding unpaid wages for their work, as well as seeking adequate compensation for ‘dust diseases’ such as pneumoconiosis, a deadly occupational lung disease that many workers contracted through the inhalation of asbestos fibers, silica dust, and coal mine dust.
According to Love Save Pneumoconiosis, a Beijing-based NGO advocating for workers suffering from the condition, six million Chinese rural migrant workers suffer from the devastating lung disease. The NGO says the number makes up 90 percent of the patient population in China.
However, as almost no workers have official contracts, seeking compensation for health problems is extremely difficult. Citing one of the worker representatives, Gu Fuxiang, Reuters reported that the Shenzhen government has offered some workers compensation which was not nearly enough, up to 220,000 yuan ($32,000). The amount of compensation that the workers are asking for is between 500,000 yuan ($75,500) and 1.1 million yuan ($164,000), according to the severity of the worker’s health condition.
The workers often complain that they have been threatened by Beijing when they speak up about the lung diseases and working conditions. China Digital Times reported that in the last year Chinese authorities issued censorship instructions to the media that reported on the lung diseases. The protesters who wanted to show support to Shenzhen workers were intercepted by police and the workers who were released said police threatened them with death.
Currently over 40 people including, workers, labour NGO staff and student activists connected to the Jasic Technology case, are under criminal detention.
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Source: TRT World