Reuters: Few China workers with lung disease get redress-rights group

29 April 2010
China Labour Bulletin is quoted in the following article. Copyright remains with the original publisher.

HONG KONG, April 26 (Reuters) - Over 10,000 workers in China are diagnosed with a deadly lung disease each year from breathing in dust from cutting gemstones and drilling rocks, but only a few manage to get compensation, said a rights organisation.

The China Labour Bulletin (CLB) said some pneumoconiosis victims receive small sums that cover their medical costs for a few years, but many get nothing at all for the incurable disease.

"Pneumoconiosis is the number-one occupational disease in China, accounting for around 90 percent of all cases," CLB said, adding that many victims cannot even manage to get an official diagnosis.

Breathing in fine particles such as asbestos fibres, silica dust and coal mine dust over long periods causes the lungs to become inflamed and harden. Patients develop a dry cough, fatigue, loss of appetite, laboured breathing and chest pain.

The condition -- when fine dust is lodged in air sacs in the lungs -- is irreversible and incurable. Patients soon lose their ability to work and eventually die.

Many of them also become susceptible to developing active tuberculosis and die directly from it.

In a 45-page research report, the CLB highlighted obstacles encountered by migrant workers in their quest for redress and suggested ways to improve workplace safety and workers' rights.

"The current laws and procedures for work-related injury compensation claims are completely out of step with the reality faced by migrant workers, most of whom will have already left their jobs and moved back home by the time clinical symptoms of the disease become apparent," the report said.

As a result, victims have to make enormous effort to get their disease diagnosed and win compensation, it said.

CLB also called for better work conditions.

"The majority of migrant workers employed in high-dust industries such as mining, quarrying and gemstone polishing are poorly educated and are unaware of the hazards of long term dust inhalation," the CLB said.

The Chinese government recognises the problem and has demanded large employers like gemstone companies compensate dying workers, but rights groups say the situation has not improved because much of such work has been outsourced to unlicenced contractors to avoid lawsuits. (Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Jerry Norton)
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