Johnson Electric neglecting occupational health
Leukemia victim came to HK calling for compensation
Johnson Electric (HKG 0179) is one of the world’s largest manufacturers in motion subsystems and components for automotive and industrial applications, supplying to a number of well-known brands such as Audi, Porsche, BMW, etc. While claiming, as shown on its website, that ‘No harm to people working for us wherever we operate’ is one of their specific Environmental, Health and Safety goals, its words and performance surely lack consistency. A number of employees and former employees of Huaseng Motor (Guangdong) Limited in Shenzhen, a subsidiary manufacturer of Johnson Electric, have contracted leukemia due to prolonged exposure to hazardous chemicals (benzene) and lack of adequate protection equipment provided in workplace. Huaseng has also refused to compensate for statutory medical expenses and pay for original wages and welfare benefits as required by law.
On 14 July, 2016, three Leukemia victims (Xie Fengping, Zeng Shumei, Zhou Xiuhua) came to Hong Kong to protest against Johnson Electric at their Annual General Meeting demanding the company to immediately address and take responsibilities regarding the precarious Occupational Health and Safety conditions.
Victims in deep debt, weltering in tears
After working for five years at Huaseng from 2008, Xie was diagnosed with leukemia (acute myeloid leukemia subtype M2, AML-M2) in late 2013. In October 2015, Guangdong Prevention and Treatment Center for Occupational Diseases confirmed her condition as occupational cancer caused by Benzene exposure. As pointed out by her husband, Mr. Lan, after her diagnosis, Huaseng has been failing to pay the original wage as required by law and refusing to compensate for medical expenses beyond health insurance. ‘Where did the sense of ethics and responsibilities go’, he denounced.
Another worker Zeng Shumei who worked for the company from August 2009 was also diagnosed with acute leukemia M2 in 2013. Despite the diagnosis provided by Guangdong Prevention and Treatment Center for Occupational Diseases, the company has been deliberately delaying the submission of relevant information as an attempt to obstruct the assessment process. ‘I completely broke down and almost committed suicide’, Zeng said tearfully. She worked 11 hours a day in the Graphite workshop, with frequent contacts to soldering flux and white mineral oil. Now that she has been diagnosed, she needs to borrow ¥350,000 in order to cover her medical expenses, and in the meantime, she also needs to take care of her children and aged parents. ‘Every day in hospital, I welter in tears,’, she wiped.
Zhou Xiuhua, was another male worker who was diagnosed with acute leukemia M4 and is now undergoing chemotherapy. His occupational disease diagnosis assessment process was also procrastinated by Huaseng. His wife, a former employee of Huaseng, told us that Huaseng has never contained in labour contracts the potential health-threatening occupational diseases, nor has it provided protection equipment or safety training. The company refused to compensate, and now the family has no choice but to borrow money for her husband’s treatment.
Invisible killer Benzene; Tip of the victim iceberg
Benzene is a type of petrochemical material widely used for producing lubricating oil, thinner, paint, cleaning agent, industrial solvent, etc. Benzene is highly volatile and most exposure can be transmitted through skin and inhalation. Acute occupational exposure to benzene may cause headache, dizziness, drowsiness, palpitation acceleration, tremors and loss of consciousness and a long-term exposure could lead to blood related diseases, including leukemia, neutropenia and severe anemia, etc. The three workers from Johnson Electric only constitute the tip of victim iceberg. According to Zhou’s wife, there were at least six other workers in Huaseng had contracted leukemia. Moreover, Labour Action China (LAC) has pointed out that, in recent years, the number of occupational disease victims in China has risen exponentially and there were many cases received from Toys, Automobile Parts and Electronic Parts manufacturing sectors. Unfortunately, some of the victims in these cases already passed away due to the disease. Not only did the companies stall diagnosis processes, they were also in arrears with the salary, health insurance and medical compensations. Collusions between local governments and companies, and the deficient system, put the workers in desperation.
After the press conference, the three workers and their families, together with representatives of CTU and LAC, protested at the Johnson Electric Annual General Meeting in demanding the company to take responsibilities and make compensation. During the protest, the workers and their families repeatedly demanded the CEO of the company, Dr. Patrick Wang to address the problem Dr. Wang did not receive the workers on the occasion. The company only sent Ms. Kristie Leung, the general manager from its human resources department, to receive the petition letter. The HKCTU and LAC will continue to assist the workers in their demands and lobby Johnson Electric to terminate the use of benzene and other toxic chemicals.