Railway bureau places injured worker on “temporary leave” for eight-years to cut costs

Li Gang took over his father’s old job in the Shanghai Railway Bureau in 1986. He was employed as a bricklayer at the Works Department of the bureau’s Bengbu branch until one day in 2001 when he was injured in a traffic accident on the way to work.

Instead of reporting the accident, Li’s bosses kept the incident quiet and forced Li to stay at home on a reduced salary rather than pay the work-related injury benefits he was owed. Now middle aged, Li is facing a bleak retirement because of a substantial shortfall in his wage-linked pension contributions.

In April 2011, Li spoke to CLB Director Han Dongfang about his injury and the underhand tactics used by the railway bureau to get out of paying the compensation he was owed.
 

The bus I was riding on had an accident. Six of us were injured altogether, and four of us seriously. I was hurt on the wrist of my left hand. The flesh was torn away and the bone was exposed. After it healed, my hand movements were impaired by muscle damage.

Because the accident happened on the way to work, Li’s injury was legally a work-related injury and Li said: “The unit treated it as such. They created a file for me. I was entitled to occupational injury compensation under the regulations.”

However, the bosses of Bengbu branch office did not report the six workers’ injuries, apparently to avoid jeopardising their 20,000 yuan year-end bonus. The Works Department also refused to foot the bill for the injured workers’ medical expenses. Instead, it tried to get Li and the others to pay back their cost of their treatment by issuing promissory notes to the management.
 

They actually went to the hospital and said they had no money, and asked us to make out IOUs to them. This decision was only overturned when the relatives of one of the injured workers went to the unit's headquarters and kicked up a fuss.

Once out of hospital, Li was unable to resume his earlier work duties because of the irreparable muscle damage to his wrist. For two years, he was allowed to work as a construction site supervisor on full pay of more than 1,800 yuan a month including bonus. Then, in 2003, management decided that this arrangement was too expensive and told Li to stay at home on just 650 yuan. “It wasn't an agreement to make me quit,” he said, “It was just an agreement that I do not come to work. They continued to regard me as a member of the unit.”

Under this arbitrary “temporary leave” agreement, Li’s monthly income has ranged over the last eight years from as low as 375 yuan to a little over 1,000 yuan at present. But he is still only earning one-third of what he would have received if he was still at work.

Although Li’s injury was confirmed as work-related soon after the event, it took another seven years before his injury was finally classified as a Grade Ten disability, the lowest level on China’s one-to-ten scale of severity. If procedure had been followed correctly, this whole process should have taken just a few weeks or months to complete.

In addition to his loss of salary and lack of benefits, Li was also concerned over the long-term effects his enforced vacation would have on his pension.
 

I turned 45 this year and I will soon be approaching retirement age. The unit has paid less than half the due contributions for my state pension and provident fund. I’m only paying in 300 yuan to 400 yuan per year.

Li wants to get back to work and boost his pension but his pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
 

I went to the Party secretary, and he said he could not comment as an individual. Later I went to the general manager who said if I went back to work I would only get a salary of 500 yuan. I approached head of human resources and he just told me to ‘go home and recuperate — you cannot win this one, your position is too weak.’ The union boss regarded the whole thing as beyond his remit.

Later, I went to the Municipal Railway Bureau, and they said that this was a matter for the unit to resolve. I was going round in circles. The union guy said later that I should go back to the Railway Bureau and apply for a transfer to another unit. That looked like going ahead, but then there was a merger between the Bengbu and Hefei branches, so it became even harder to find the right people, and nothing happened.

The temporary leave agreement did allow Li to take on part time work. He worked two days a week as a gateman in Suzhou and helped out with deliveries for a store owned by one of his relatives. But, he stressed,
 

It is not easy to find work at my age .. I began this in 2003 and was I trying to get it sorted out. But in 2008, I ran out of steam and stopped trying. I have given up hope now.

Li has two sons to support, the elder one in his senior year of high school and the younger boy (from Li’s second marriage) is in kindergarten. He also has loans totalling 310,000 yuan, after buying his own home outside his employment unit.

Li said he had considered taking his employer to arbitration or the courts but one of the leaders had warned him, “every year the Shanghai Railway Bureau has a performance-based shakeout of personnel. You think hard about what might happen if you go to the arbitration people.”

Han Dongfang pointed out however that Li did have some legal options. The State Council’s 1996 Trial Procedures for Industrial Injury Insurance for Enterprise Employees (which predated the current Work-related Injury Insurance Regulations, issued in 2004 after Li’s accident) gave him reason for hope, Han said. Article 24 states that if a worker has a grade five to ten disability, his unit has to arrange suitable work for him, with due remuneration. Also, if the injured worker decides, with the employer’s consent, to seek alternative employment or does so after completion of his employment contract, then he or she is entitled to a one-time disability allowance, probably equal to six month’s salary, based on current regulations.

However, Li is still reluctant to take up CLB’s offer of funding a lawsuit against his bosses.

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Han Dongfang's interview with Li Gang was first broadcast in three episodes in April 2011. To read the full Chinese transcript or listen to the audio file of the broadcast please go to the workers’ voices section of our Chinese language website and follow the links.

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