Wednesday, January 28, 2004

China: Privatization, Globalization and Hazardous Workplaces

Privatization and globalization have not been kind to workers in China.
Often residing in shacks on construction sites, earning about 30-50 yuan (US $3.90-$6.40) per day, and working in hazardous conditions, the world of migrant workers is described as one of “extreme hardship and loneliness.” Seen in context, their situation is perhaps a reflection of China’s widening gap between rich and poor. One telling statement in the Post story, for example, came from Zhao Daying, a lawyer representing one of the migrant workers. “What they [migrant workers] eat,” Zhao said, “is worse than what urban residents feed their cats and dogs.”

In addition to this, migrant laborers in the construction industry are usually only paid once a year, before the Lunar New Year holiday season.
Life for these workers is not only nasty and brutish, it may also be short:
The government also released this week its latest statistics on the number of deaths in the coal mining industry. Official figures from the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) show that over 2,110 workers were killed in 596 explosions in Chinese coal mines in 2003, a slightly lower figure than the previous year. Xinhua published a report about the subsequent National Conference on Industrial Safety, during which Vice-Premier Huang Ju conceded, “China still faces a stark and grave situation in the field of industrial safety, though the situation was improving as a whole from last year.”

John Chen, a labor researcher and writer in Hong Kong notes that Chinese authorities were being forced by the number of deaths and injuries, as well as the level of unrest, to address issues of urgent importance to workers in the country. These issues pertain not only to migrants and mine workers, Chen says, but also to workers in China’s rapidly industrializing areas, particularly the low-tech secondary industries in Special Economic Zones. “Corporate globalization and the rapid influx of capital to these areas,” he notes “Has increased the potential for astounding abuses of occupational health and safety laws, and workers’ rights."