Several delegates taking part in last week’s annual meetings of the National People’s Congress and its advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, have called on the government to do more for the estimated six million workers with pneumoconiosis in China.
NPC Deputy Chen Jingyu and CPPCC Delegate Wu Xianning both proposed setting up a special fund to provide medical care for migrant workers with pneumoconiosis. And NPC Deputy Zhang Mingqi suggested that such a fund could be established in part by using a proportion of the profits made by state-owned enterprises and the work-related injury insurance funds from more developed eastern provinces to assist the poorer central and western provinces where the majority of migrant workers with pneumoconiosis live.
Other delegates simply suggested extending the current approach of many local governments of providing “charitable aid” to those migrant workers (the majority of them) that cannot prove an employment relationship and are thus are unable to get occupational disease compensation. CPPCC delegate and All-China Federation of Trade Unions Vice-chairman Li Shiming, for example, suggested extending basic medical insurance to include workers with pneumoconiosis and increasing the ridiculously low minimum subsistence allowance provided by local governments by between 30 and 50 percent.
Vice-chairman of the Sichuan Federation of Trade Unions, Luo Maoxiang, meanwhile called for the stricter enforcement of existing regulations that allowed for the advance payment of compensation from the work-related injury insurance fund when employers without insurance refused to pay up. However, he offered no practical suggestions as to how these regulations could be better enforced. And even if they could be enforced, this could still require migrant workers to travel long distances just to claim the advance payment from the local government in whose jurisdiction they had previously been employed in.
While it is encouraging to see some national legislators proposing a national fund for workers with pneumoconiosis (as advocated by China Labour Bulletin) there is little sign so far that the Chinese government is taking steps to actually implement such a scheme. In the meantime, workers who contracted pneumoconiosis years ago are still dying in poverty and new victims are being created all the time by appalling working conditions and lax government supervision.
In this regard, at least one delegate did call for greater emphasis to be placed on the prevention of occupational disease in the first place. The deputy director of Hubei’s Department of Justice, Li Renzhen, called for better supervision of high dust enterprises and to hold business owners with large numbers of employees suffering from pneumoconiosis criminally responsible for endangering their health.