Seven pneumatic drill workers detained in Shenzhen: missing compensation for occupational disease

Pneumatic drill workers (hereafter: PD workers) from Leiyang City of Hunan Province have been demanding compensation for their occupational disease from Shenzhen Government since 2009. This May, they came again to Shenzhen to reiterate their claim, but were met with police brutality.

Daozixiang is a well-known "silicosis village" in Leiyang City of Hunan Province. Many of its male villagers went to work as PD workers at construction sites in Shenzhen in the 1990s and 2000s. Inside potholes with a diameter of 1 meter to 5 meters, they drilled on granite and filled in explosives for foundation treatment. Such an operation created abundant dust while they were not informed about its health hazards. Most of them had only one tiny face mask, inhaled silica dust and thus suffered from silicosis.

Those who arrived Shenzhen in the early 1990s became the frontiers to fight for their rights to compensation. In 2009, more than 100 silicosis workers from Leiyang demanded an explosive enterprise in Shenzhen to compensate. The employer asked them to provide proof of their illness. Under the complicated and bureaucratic verification procedure, workers must first prove their labour relations, while many of them worked without contracts. Without employment contracts, the occupational disease hospital would not verify their illness. Outraged by the employer's use of administrative procedure to evade his responsibility, workers staged a collective complaint at the Shenzhen City Government. Eventually, workers with labour contracts were compensated as required by law, while workers without proof of labour relations received compensation from 70,000 to 130,000 yuan.

The collective action in 2009 has become a collective memory of these workers. This year, they came back to Shenzhen because some of them have spent all the compensation in medical expenses and want to demand further compensation; some had not been compensated because they had not been diagnosed with silicosis in 2009, but only learned about their illness in 2017, when the Hunan Government launched a silicosis check-up within the province. These workers were diagnosed to suffer from Stage 1 to Stage 3 of silicosis.

Now the Chinese government adopts a different strategy from 2009. In January 2018, it sent police and lawyers to meet workers, instructing them to settle the case through "legal procedure". Yet, could the workers wait till the "legal procedure" is over, especially those in Stage 2 and 3? In late April, workers made another visit to Shenzhen and were "talked into” going back to Hunan. After May Day, they came back and this time, Shenzhen government sent police forces, accused the sick workers with "disturbing public order", brutally attacked them and detained seven of them. Some workers fainted during the conflict.

Workers' protest started on 8th May and at the time of writing, Shenzhen's Letters and Visits Bureau has not met with the workers. In the past decade, these workers were subjected to repression and discrimination. The Shenzhen government blacklisted workers who were involved in the 2009 protest, to deny them re-employment. Now it even sends police to assault them. The society is sympathetic to these workers. Despite the repression, Foxconn workers raised a banner to support Leiyang workers' quest.

Nine years of labour struggle does not ended here. Despites, Shenzhen's skyscrapers have been built, workers from the grassroots are still struggling with silicosis everyday.