The Ministry of Health has called for stricter enforcement of a
law aimed at preventing occupational health problems.
The call comes as the ministry has been working to guarantee
health services for the country's large working
population. Despite the progress that has been made in
enforcing the prevention law, which took effect in May 2002 to
protect workers' health rights, many people are still at risk of
contracting occupational diseases, Vice-Minister of Health Chen
Xiaohong told a working conference in which provincial health
officials took part on Tuesday.
"Occupational health problems and work-related ailments are
still taking huge tolls, both human and economic, on China," Chen
Such illnesses pose a potential threat to some 200 million
Chinese people and cause 300 billion yuan (about US$40 billion) of
economic losses every year, statistics from State Administration of
Work Safety (SAWS) show.
"The experience of recent years shows that (occupational
diseases) are more than a public health problem. They are an
important factor affecting stability and harmony," Chen said.
Disagreements between stricken workers and employers have
resulted in an increasing number of public petitions and labor
disputes in recent years.
Last year, unresolved medical disputes involving occupational
diseases were the fifth most common form of public petition
submitted to the Ministry of Health, Xue Xiaolin, a division
director in charge of handling petitions at the ministry, said.
Some of the longer-running disputes have blown up into mass
incidents, which severely undermines public security, Xue told
Because of the long duration and strong passions involved, these
occasionally violent mass incidents are getting harder to resolve,
In the case of a violent incident in the southern boomtown of
Huizhou, Guangdong Province, police were dispatched to break up a
crowd of mostly migrant workers who had set fire to some police
cars, Xue said.
"The workers involved said they wanted compensation for
treatment for work-related diseases," Xue said.
"Chinese workers have a growing sense of their rights, but the
extreme approach doesn't work and usually worsens the situation,"
Local health administrations that recognize and diagnose
work-caused health problems should strictly abide by the law and
uphold people's rights, Chen said.
"Health officials must practice self-discipline and must not be
influenced by employers who want to evade responsibility," Chen
He also said the government will consider shouldering medical
fees. At present, either labor insurance or the employers
themselves must cover the fees, but only if a contract is signed
beforehand, according to the law.
(China Daily October 11, 2007)