The marginalization of sick workers in China — an interview with Dr. Ho Wing Chong

The sick workers in China are the most vulnerable group whose life is located outside the “normal” political, economic and cultural practices, and hence is rendered largely silent and unintelligible in the public realm, argued by Dr. Ho Wing Chong1, who has been constantly studying the experiences of Chinese sick workers, in his journal paper which was published in 20142. He pointed out that the sick workers has already uncompetitive in job market and consequently they lost the role as breadwinner for the family. It is as if sick workers are unable to uphold any roles in the society.

The experience of sick workers in China reflected a blind spot in the governance according to Dr. Ho. First of all, they physical health are damaged by the hazardous working environment. Secondly, they are deprived of legal rights for compensation and medical treatment. However, all these ultimate violations against the sick workers are lawful or justified by the current “social norms.”

What happen to Sau Hua and Xiao Chen are typical examples, said by Dr. Ho. The formal case showed that official occupational health hospital did not follow legal standard to do a diagnosis on leukemia for the case of Sau Hua. The latter case revealed how weak the supervision of law enforcement is. There are many stories similar to Sau Hua’s. The most famous one is Zhang Hai Chao who requested an open chest surgery to prove himself having pneumoconiosis instead of Tuberculosis. As for Sau Hau, what he could do now is to wait for the final review of the verification committee of occupational disease diagnosis. In Xiao Chen’s case, he got the diagnosis certificate but he could not get full compensation. The medical and governmental departments could easily interpreter the law to cover up all the above issues so that they are not held accountable for the mistakes and delays. On the other hand, the sick workers are forced to wait for several years to go through all the complicated procedures and appraisals from the employers, which are discouraging for workers to seek for compensation.

Dr. Ho concluded that law reform are not the solution to improve the conditions of the vulnerable and marginalized sick workers in China. They need supporters such as Labour NGOs to empower them to fight for justice. Nevertheless, the sick workers are deviants to the social stability in the eyes of Chinese government and they are victimized by tactics of maintaining stability. Not so many workers can persistently to fight under such pressure.

1.  Dr. Ho Wing Chong, Associate Professor of Department of Applied Social Studies of City University of Hong Kong
2.  Ho Wing Chong(2014), Biopolitics, occupational health and state power: the marginalization of sick workers in China, The China Quarterly, V 219, pp808-826, DOI: 10.1017/S0305741014000782