Activists demand that workers be given the right to supervise workplace safety

04 August 2014

In the wake of Saturday’s massive explosion at a Kunshan factory that killed at least 75 workers and injured 180 others, a group of labour activists and academics has issued an open letter arguing that since factory owners and local governments have failed to protect workers, the workers themselves should be given the right to supervise workplace safety, Caixin reported today.

The letter noted the failure of Zhongrong Metal Products to remove hazardous dust, install proper ventilation equipment or dust-level monitors or provide workers with adequate protective clothing. Moreover, it noted that the Kunshan municipal government had just finished a round of safety inspections from the 16th to 25th July and that no violations were found.

Dai Chun, associate professor at a Hunan trade union school and one of the letter’s authors, told Caixin that problems with work safety were part of a wider failure to incorporate workers' rights into China’s economic development model. As such, the authors called on the government to give workers the authority to supervise safety in the workplace.

Veteran labour lawyer, Duan Yi, noted that Holland has workplace safety committees comprised of representatives from the workers and company, as well as administrators from the government.

Moreover, the workers’ representative acts as the committee’s director. “When it comes to whether an elevator needs repairing, for example, neither the boss nor the administrator has the final say. It is the workers,” said Duan.

The letter also called for the greater involvement of civil society organizations in workplace safety, and to utilise trade unions as organising platforms for workers. Ideally, it said, enterprise trade unions should play an active role in eliminating hazards, preventing the company from violating labour rights, resolving labour disputes, and promoting harmonious labour relations.

Within four days of being posted online, the letter had been signed by more than 1,500 organizations and individuals.The letter is translated here by China Labour Bulletin.

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