Hundreds of Hunan Silicosis workers petitioned to support the criminally detained "iLabour" editors!

On April 15th, hundreds of Hunan silicosis workers sent a joint petition to the leaders of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), requesting the ACFTU to urge the Shenzhen police to immediately release the editors of the "iLabour", Yang Zhengjun, Wei Zhili and Ke Chengbing, who were arrested for supporting the Hunan Silicosis workers. And demand the Hunan and Shenzhen governments to implement the compensation plans for the silicosis workers as soon as possible!


Although the local government of Hunan received RMB 300 million compensation from the Shenzhen Municipal Government at the end of last year, the local government has yet to announce any effective compensation and assistance plan.  As of today, the Sangzhi County government has only provided the contracted workers with a monthly living expenses assistance in three installments of RMB 900, two installments of RMB 600 yuan and one installment of RMB 500. Yet, no compensation was paid out to family members of the diseased workers. Such compensations are unable to meet the basic needs of the workers and families, while such division in remedies also attempts to divide family members of the contracted and diseased workers. The workers are firmly opposed to this plan!


Therefore, on April 12, hundreds of silicosis workers in Sangzhi County planned to go to Shenzhen to defend their rights, but they were intercepted, intimidated, and delayed by the local authorities. Zhangjiajie City leaders claimed that the government will set up a working group including workers' representatives to negotiate in Shenzhen. However, the workers know too well:


Without solidarity, the government will not take the initiative to implement an effective plan, and its legitimate rights and interests will never be guaranteed!


The Silicosis group and Sangzhi County workers also strongly demand:


The Shenzhen police to immediate release the "iLabour" editors, Yang Zhengjun, Ke Chengbing, and Wei Zhili!

Original text of the Hunan Silicosis workers’ joint petition

Dear leaders of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions:




We are silicosis workers from Sangzhi County, Hunan Province. I am writing this open letter to you, hoping that the All-China Federation of Trade Unions will understand the difficulties of life and rights protection of silicosis workers, and pay attention to the incidents of passionate members of society, Yang Zhengjun, Ke Chengbing, and Wei Zhili, who were arrested for helping us, the silicosis workers.


We, who first came to work in Shenzhen in the early 1990s, witnessed the development of Shenzhen from a small fishing village to become a mega city of today. When we first came here, we were very young and filled of vigor to pick up some of the dirtiest and tiring jobs, hoping that we could earn some money to support the family through our hard work.  Many of us who worked on the drills in Shenzhen were paid higher than other jobs on the construction site.  After earning some money, they also took other men from our village to work in Shenzhen.


At that time, we went down to manholes and drilled and got dust in our nostrils. We bought medical cotton masks, we washed them and reused them, although it took a long time to wash the masks clean. However, the management was not standardized at the time and the construction companies did not sign labour contracts with us, nor did they buy us social security or provide us with any occupational health and safety protection gear.


Until now, we have all been diagnosed with silicosis, but it is more difficult to get compensation for occupational diseases and injuries than ever. When we went to negotiate compensations from sub-contractors, there was no proof of our employment relations due to historic reasons so claims could not be done by means of litigation. So we demanded the Shenzhen Municipal Government for compensation. In 2018, hundreds of silicosis workers and their families went to Shenzhen to defend their rights for more than a dozen times. Each time they were forcibly sent home. Finally, the governments of Shenzhen and Hunan promised compensation, but the compensation plan was determined without negotiation. For us, the amount of compensation is low, the plan is neither legal nor reasonable, and it is unable to meet the needs of the silicosis workers to raise their children, support their elderlies, family members and medical treatments. As of today, the compensation plan has yet to be implemented.


Silicosis can be lethal. Since contraction, we have become more and more difficult to breathe, our hands cannot be lifted, our shoulders are paralyzed and we have lost our ability to work. As the disease deteriorates, we will suffer from complications. Our wives and children endure tremendous hardships when taking our fragile bodies, and they will be saddened and distressed when they see us slowly suffocate to death. We are also feel painful in our hearts because we are bringing heavy financial burdens and mental pressures to our wives and children, let alone supporting them. We were forced to defend our rights.


On the road of rights defending, we traveled long distances. When we arrived in Shenzhen, we did not have the means to stay in hotels. We were sent to rescue station that accommodated homeless. We also slept on the cold floor of the government department. Many workers’ illness aggravated by the travels, even some brothers died without seeing the result. We started to defend our rights from the winter of early 2018, and until early 2019, we still did not get a fair and reasonable compensation plan. Many of us are in heavy debts. Just before this year’s Lunar New Year, almost all of the silicosis workers in our village were chased down by their debtors. The little money the government compensated was not even enough to cover interests for many families.


In desperation, the editors of "iLabour", Yang Zhengjun, Ke Chengbing and Wei Zhili, helped us. They came to our hometown to visit the seriously ill workers who were hospitalized, came to our protesting sites in Shenzhen and lend us support. They also comforted and encouraged the workers who were afraid and disappointed in actions. At the same time, they recorded the difficulties of our rights defending and our lives. They also told us about the concern and support from the society. Although the government has warned us not to contact the others, but after so many experiences, we are more and more aware that without the attention of the media and the public, it is way too difficult for us to defend our rights. Moreover, the care and support shown by the "iLabour" editors, their kindness and justice are genuine. We bear that in our hearts and minds. We have long regarded them as our good brothers and good friends. Despite we have low knowledge and poor health, our conscience are bright and clear.


In January and March of 2019, Yang Zhengjun, Ke Chengbing, and Wei Zhili were  criminally detained on charges of “Picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and have not been released ever since. Knowing this news, many of our workers are very sad. We also saw the news that the people at the detention center said that our three friends were used by the workers, and we felt very angry. We don't understand why it is sinful to help us. If they are guilty, we the vulnerable group, who have lost our ability to work, healthy body and even our families are also guilty, aren’t we? We are equal to the three editors of "iLabour". They are very humble people. They are willing to listen to the grassroot workers and we love to talk to them. They are willing to help us to record our experiences in rights defending and let the public learn of our stories. How have we used them?


We all hope that when we succeed in defending our rights, we will be able to invite our friends to come our homes for a meal of rural cuisine. The silicosis group of Sangzhi County workers strongly demand: the Shenzhen police immediately release caring persons, Yang Zhengjun, Ke Chengbing, Wei Zhili!


The All-China Federation of Trade Unions is a mass organization of the working class that safeguards the legitimate interests of the workers and the masses. Therefore, we appeal to the All-China Federation of Trade Unions:


  1. To demand the Shenzhen Municipal Government to release enthusiasts such as Yang Zhengjun, Ke Chengbing, and Wei Zhili who help the silicosis workers;
  2. To intervene in the incident of silicosis workers right defending in Hunan Province, investigate the life difficulties and legal demands of the silicosis workers, and demand relevant departments to initiate negotiations on equal footings and implement compensation plans according to the actual conditions of workers and relevant laws.




All silicosis workers in Sangzhi County, Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province