Hunan Silicosis Workers' 9-Year Pledge for Justice Families' Protests in Shenzhen Met with Police Brutality
On 6 November 2018, over 100 silicosis victims and their family members from Hunan Province protested at the Shenzhen Social Security Bureau in Shenzhen Human Resource Park. They hoped the Shenzhen Government to assist them in settling the compensation issue but the authority refused their demands and triggered more victims and their families joining the protest. This pledge for justice has been going on for 9 years and the end is still yet to be seen.
The protesters came originally from Hunan Province, worked as pneumatic drillers in construction sites in Shenzhen under miserable conditions. After some years in Shenzhen, they returned to their hometown because they fell ill. In Hunan, they were diagnosed with Silicosis, which is an occupational disease. Some of them knew about the illness too late, were already in Stage 3 of the sickness or even passed away. Some families are in debts due to the formidable medical expenses. After realizing their employers never paid for their labour insurance and they did not have written employment contracts, they could neither obtain occupational disease identification, nor apply for compensation, they started to approach the Shenzhen Government for help. Between 2009 and September 2018, they have come to Shenzhen six times, demanding medical treatment and compensation for their families from the Shenzhen Government.
In September 2018, some 200 workers came to Shenzhen and the government promised to handle the compensation issues of 227 workers who had kept their employment records, also to assist workers who could not provide their labour relations as appropriate. On 6 November, over 100 workers visited the Shenzhen Government to demand a concrete proposal. The government failed to deliver its promise, causing more workers and their families to travel from Hunan Province to fight for their rights. As a result, many of them stayed overnight in the office of Shenzhen Social Security Bureau in Shenzhen Human Resource Park.
The next day, some 300 protesters marched from Shenzhen Human Resource Park to the City Government and demanded to negotiate. In the same evening, the police attacked them with violence, tear gas and pepper spray. Many workers were injured or felt sick and were taken to hospital. These workers suffer from silicosis and have very weak respiratory system, attacking them with pepper spray and tear gas is seriously endangering their lives. Thus, some dozens of workers attempted to commit suicide by jumping from a tall building, forcing the authority to agree to negotiate with them.
At the negotiation, workers proposed that regardless the status of labour relations, victims should be compensated in accordance with the severity of illness. The authority refused this proposal and offered a fixed package: 200,000 Yuan to each deceased victim’s family, 120,000 Yuan, 170,000 Yuan or 220,000 Yuan to victims who cannot prove their labour relations, depending on the severity of their illness. Workers rejected this proposal, considering such a compensation scheme is an insult to their lives.
On 13 November, they encountered another crackdown. All protesters were removed from Shenzhen Human Resource Park, taken onto a coach and sent away. Officers of Shenzhen City Government distributed 2,000 Yuan of living allowance and 2,000 Yuan of medical allowance to the each victim/ family member during the ride. They promised to come up with a new compensation scheme within a month. Workers are still waiting for it before they could plan further actions.
This 9-year pledge shows that migrant workers are entirely excluded from the labour protection, and how the Shenzhen Government and their employers refused to act responsibly. Workers who sacrificed their youth and even their lives to build the modern Shenzhen are left without proper compensation and support. The Shenzhen Government has an inevitable responsibility to protect these workers and victims' families, by taking care of their medical and living expenses. Furthermore, it should hold the employers accountable for their inadequate occupational safety measures, which led to the occupational disease.