The sudden death of 54-year-old sanitation worker, Deng Deming, who collapsed while sweeping the streets of suburban Shenzhen in the early morning of 15 May, has galvanized his family and local labour activists to demand not only justice for Deng but for far more transparency in the local government’s secretive dealings with cleaning services companies.
Deng was employed by Tianmingzhu Municipal Services, which had allegedly bought work-related injury insurance for its workers but had initially refused to help the grieving family apply for work-related injury compensation, the company claiming that Deng had died outside of work hours. His daughter Deng Liehong was outraged:
Shame on them! My father died wearing the company uniform, he was even holding a broom in his hand! The boss said the working day starts at 6:00 am, and it is a lie! My father had to start to work at 3:00 simply because there was too much to do. If he couldn’t finish the job by 11:00 in the morning, the company would fine him 100 yuan.
One of Deng’s colleagues confirmed this, saying her contracted eight-hour working day existed only on paper:
In reality, we need to work up to 11 hours a day throughout the year, the workload is just too much. The company used to hire four workers to cover this area, and now it is down to two. To avoid punishment, most of my colleagues have to ask family members to help out.
It was only when local journalists questioned the owner of company about Deng’s case that he agreed to facilitate the application for work-related injury compensation.
In addition to compensation for his death at work, Deng’s family are demanding payment of years of overtime and social insurance arrears, and the publication of details of the government’s cleaning services contract bidding process. As Deng Liehong explained:
Many other sanitation workers are still out there being exploited by the secretive contracting system just as my father was. The company should be held accountable for his death, I don’t think the government agreed to underpay the sanitation workers and allow them to overwork in the original contract.
The Southern Metropolis Daily reported that Tianmingzhu was one five companies accused of bribing local government officials and rigging the bid for the sub-district cleaning contract in October 2014. However, a notice on the Bao’an district government website posted in March 2015 showed that the company won the bid and that its performance ranking was “Excellent.”
Deng’s family is receiving help from lawyers, non-governmental labour organisation, and sanitation workers from the neighbouring city of Guangzhou, including the well-known street-sweeper activist Yu Wucang, who told the family: “You won’t get justice unless you fight for it. Sanitation workers are seen by many the lowest in society but we have our power and our voices will be heard.”
Sanitation workers on strike in Guangzhou, January 2014