A street cleaner from the north-eastern city of Harbin suffered a stroke while at work but was denied work-related injury status because she did not die. Local authorities claimed that China’s Work-related Injury Insurance Regulations only recognised cases in which victims died within 48 hours of the onset of sudden illness at work.
The incident occurred on 14 February when 49-year-old “model worker,” Zhang Zhijuan was on duty as a street sweeper employed by the district government’s urban management office. She suffered intra-cerebral bleeding and was rushed to hospital. Her life was saved but she was left with impairments to her speech and mobility.
News of the incident triggered a high profile debate in the Chinese media on whether the Harbin government’s interpretation of the regulations was correct or not and, if it was correct, should the relevant clauses be amended to be more inclusive. Several legal scholars argued that long hours and work pressure almost certainly paid a part in the onset of Zhang’s stroke, while others pointed out that work-related injury had been recognised in similar cases in the past.
The case highlights once again the very narrow and overly-bureaucratic attitude of many government officials in dealing with work-related injury cases. Unless workers can prove that their injury, and their application for recognition of that injury, complies with all the necessary provisions of the legislation, officials can and do refuse to even consider the case.
However public pressure has been known to pay dividends and given the publicity this case has received, there is hope that a reasonable settlement can be arrived at.