Toxic Chemicals Killing Chinese Workers: A critical analysis and case studies of benzene poisoning in China
Table of content page 3
1. Ban Benzene Campaign
a. What is benzene?
b. Why ban benzene?
c. Case studies
d. Benzene regulations in the world
e. What are the alternatives to benzene?
2. Ban Benzene Declaration
3. Diagnostic Criteria of Benzene Poisoning in China
4. Philips Lighting China (PLC)
a. Occupational Diseases – the case of ZHANG Cairu 5. ASM Pacific Technology (ASMPT)
a. Occupational Diseases – the case of MING Kunpeng
b. Occupational Diseases – the case of HU Jiayong
c. Collective Labour Dispute
6. What Have Been Achieved So Far?
Ban Benzene Campaign 1. What is benzene?
Chemical Formula: C6H6; Molecular Ring Structure An aromatic organic compound A proven carcinogen1 A common solvent, found in paint, glue, fuels and cleaning agents Commonly used in various industries including electronics, toys and footwear Linked to various bone marrow anomalies including leukaemia and anaemia Can also cause birth defects
2. Why ban benzene? Benzene is the most common cause of occupational chemical poisoning in China. According to official statistics, over 60 per cent of all occupational cancers are caused by benzene.2 In the industrial city of Dongguan, 30 per cent of all diagnosed occupational diseases are caused by benzene poisoning.3 Those who have suffered chronic benzene poisoning often requires life-long treatment. The fatality rate of acute benzene poisoning was 21.7 per cent.4
In 1996, the media unveiled a series of benzene poisoning cases in the shoe-making town of Putian in Fujian province; some could trace back to the 80s. A collective case in 1993 was of particular note; a group of workers got violently sick after working for a few months in Jinjiang factory; two pregnant workers subsequently died from leukaemia together with their unborn child. Atmospheric benzene content in the town was 30 per Benzene is a group 1 carcinogen as classified by International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Although the total number of cases looks small (only 80 cases of occupational cancer in 2010), this was mainly a result of the immense difficulties in obtaining an official occupational disease diagnosis. See 卫生部通报 2010 年职业病防治工作 情况和 2011 年重点工作 (http://www.moh.gov.cn/mohwsjdj/s5854/201105/51676.shtml). 3 东莞常见 4 种职业病 三成源自苯中毒 (http://news.qq.com/a/20090611/000446.htm). 4 卫生部：急性苯中毒死亡率高达 21.7％(http://www.people.com.cn/GB/shehui/47/20020402/700372.html). 1 2
cent above maximum permissible level, and local residents expressed fear of its effect on their health and to their next generation.5
In 2000, another collective case was revealed in a footwear factory in Nanhai, Guangdong province. Among its 200 workers, 44 showed signs of benzene poisoning. In response the authorities carried out health check for workers in 17 other footwear factories, discovered another 67 cases.6
In 2002, 33 workers from luggage factories in Gaobeidian, Hebei province were diagnosed with benzene poisoning; 9 died.7 The average age of the poisoned workers was only 17 years old, which has worked there for an average of 10.8 months.8 Their employers were later found guilty of causing major industrial incident and sentenced for 6 months’ to 4 years’ imprisonment.9
In 2004, 11 workers in the painting department of a forestry plant in Fujian province was sent to a hospital because of acute benzene poisoning. The hospitalized workers were foaming at the month and suffering from convulsion.10
In 2010, 35 workers at a hair products factory in Xuchang, Henan province were found to be benzene poisoned. Half of them suffered from aplastic anaemia, a debilitating blood cancer.11
The above cases are only the tip of the iceberg that managed to gain media attention and/or state recognition. Yet they are still sufficient to show that benzene poses a substantial and life-threatening threat to workers across the country and across industries, where paint, glue and other common solvents are commonly used in the workplace.
The Ministry of Health has flagged up the issue of benzene poisoning as early as 2002,12 but has so far been ineffective in curbing the problem. Even though there are industrial standards in place for permissible exposure level, it is often unenforced. Factory inspections are mostly a sham, and problems are not spotted until people actually get sick.
妈祖有泪（苯毒危害女工报告之一）http://old.chinacourt.org/public/detail.php?id=7593 毒胶水害苦鞋厂工人 中毒打工仔入院治疗 http://news.sina.com.cn/s/159341.html 7 紧急追查“苯中毒”事件 http://www.people.com.cn/GB/shehui/212/7792/ 8 2002 年高碑店市箱包业苯中毒事件调查分析 http://file.lw23.com/9/94/94c/94c572c7-7ee7-418c-8206-231b7c64a21a.pdf 9 河北高碑店“苯中毒”事件八名厂主被判有罪 http://www.unn.com.cn/GB/channel19/49/117/200207/26/198963.html 10 福州一工厂发生急性苯中毒事故 http://www.chinasafety.gov.cn/wangluocankao/2004-07/13/content_16289.htm 11 许昌一家企业密封严 十多天发现 30 名员工苯中毒 http://www.dahe.cn/xwzx/sz/t20100330_1772565.htm 12 卫生部紧急通知 专项整治苯中毒 http://www.china.com.cn/health/txt/2002-03/29/content_5124810.htm 6
Given the extreme toxicity of benzene, we consider a complete ban as more appropriate than regulated use. As the American Petroleum Institute stated as early as 1948, "it is generally considered that the only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero."13 Benzene is not irreplaceable; human lives are.
3. Case studies In recent year Labour Action China (LAC) has come across many cases of benzene poisoning, involving toy, footwear, electronics and container industries, among others. Many of the factories involved are either itself renowned listed companies, or are manufacturers for big brand names such as Disney and Timberland. Case 1: China International Marine Containers (Group) Ltd. (CIMC) CIMC is a state-owned listed corporation found in 1980, and is among Forbes’s “Top 2000 World Leading Companies” in 2009. It has over 150 subsidiaries and 63,000 staff across China, North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.
Yi Yeting joined CIMC in 2003, working as a machine operator in the presswork department. He described his working environment as “filled with a mixture of irritating smells, coming from thinners, paints, smoke and dust from welding. You can smell that horrible smell once you walked within 500m of the factory.” The authorities have only carried out one inspection during the time Yi’s was working in CIMC. “The factory knew about the inspection beforehand and had prepared accordingly. Normally we can produce 140 containers per day; that day we made only 30. All the harmful chemicals like thinners were hidden away.”
In early 2005, Yi started showing signs of gum bleeding and bruising. Doctors told him that he had leukaemia. He was only 25.
Suspecting that the disease was related to his job, Yi applied for occupational disease diagnosis. Although he did not directly handle paint or other solvents, he did work next to the painting station. The factory has not partitioned off the harmful procedure, nor had it provided adequate ventilation. Yet the hospital told him, “CIMC would never cause any occupational diseases!”
American Petroleum Institute, API Toxicological Review, Benzene, September 1948, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Department of Health and Human Services (http://web.archive.org/web/20030310145140/http://hobsonlaw.com/benzene_pages/pdffile.pdf) 13
By chance Yi came across evidence of bribing by the factory to the local occupational disease diagnosis institutions. Suspicious, yet Yi appealed to the provincial diagnosis board and finally received a confirmed diagnosis in 2007. Only then could he be entitled to treatment under the national work injury system.
Since Yi’s success was made known, more workers from CIMC have stepped forward to demand recognition and compensation for their occupational diseases. Four more has been diagnosed. At the moment all five of them are still suing CIMC for civil compensation.
Case 2: Early Light International Toy Factory Early Light is one of the world largest toy manufacturers, and a member of the International Council of Toy Industries (ICTI) CARE process. It is a long-time producer for big brands including Disney, Mattel and Hasbro. Its president, Francis Choi Cheeming, is nicknamed “the King of Toys”. Its factories in Shenzhen and Shaoguan have a capacity of up to 70,000 workers. Yet such a renowned enterprise had surprisingly appalling OSH practice.
Since 2011 several cases of chronic benzene poisoning have come to light at Early Light’s Shenzhen plant, which had a workforce of over 3,000. The case has only been exposed thanks to the persistence of six affected workers. Their experience revealed how the factory has systematically covered up the problem of benzene poisoning, showing a serious disregard for the rights and health of the affected workers.
In accordance with the law, Early Light had conducted annual health check for its workers. However the results were not disclosed to the workers; rather the information thus obtained was utilised by the factory to quietly weed out the sick workers.
In early 2011 after the usual annual body check, Luo Yuanxiang and about 100 other workers were requested to undergo repeated examinations. They then received a notice that they were required to transfer to other departments where they did not have the skills. Luo and a few workers protested about the transfer, but most other workers complied with. Suspicious of the factory’s motive, Luo and her friends demanded to look at the examination reports. The factory refused.
The group decided to take the matter to the local authorities. After rounds of protests and haggling, the local occupational diagnosis institution finally agreed to give them further examination and concluded that they were suffering from chronic benzene poisoning. Luo and her friends used to work in the spray painting department, and were
in daily contact with thinner and paint. They have worked in Early Light for about 8 to 12 years.
LAC has been conducting four way negotiation with Early Light, ICTI and Disney in order to find a satisfactory solution to the issue. During the negotiation Early Light disclosed that in the annual body check of 2012 a further group of over 100 workers were found to have suspected symptoms of benzene poisoning. When pressed about whether the workers had been given the health check results, the factory maintained that it was necessary to withhold the results in order to prevent the spread of “unwarranted” panic and disturbance. The factory refused to divulge further information and merely assured us that all suspected cases had been properly dealt with. To date three of the six workers with confirmed diagnosis had received private settlements.
Case 3: Chow Tai Fok Jewellery Chow Tai Fok is the world largest jeweller.14 An 84 year-old listed company from Hong Kong, one of the city richest family has the decisive majority. It has over 1,800 branches in Hong Kong, China and Southeast Asia.
Hou Xing aged 18 when she joined Chow Tai Fook in 2004. She worked in the moulding department, and had to work with thinners and naphtha. Two years into the job she started feeling unwell, and a lump started to develop in her abdomen. She switched job, hoping that a change of working environment would cure her problem. It did not. Half a year into her new job she got so violently ill that she was forced to resign. She was diagnosed with leukaemia, potentially caused by benzene poisoning. She died in 2009, without getting any compensation from either company.
Chow Tai Fook argued that once she left the company it was none of their business, while the new company argued that she had contracted the disease back in Chow Tai Fook. Neither was willing to shoulder the responsibility, and passed the buck for another three years. Finally in 2012 the court ruled that since Hou’s disease was diagnosed while working in the new company, it should bear most of the compensation; 15 however because Hou had been working longer for Chow Tai Fook, and that she had developed symptoms while working there, Chow Tai Fook should bear 30 per cent of the compensation.
Huge for Its Bling, Unknown in West (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204224604577031570735814542.html) 15 This is the default position of Chinese law on occupational diseases compensation 14
Case 4: Ka Wai Shoe Factory Cheng Yi had been working faithfully in Ka Wai Shoe factory, a Hong Kong invested factory, for 17 years together with her husband. Shoes made by her and her colleagues were exported to places as far as Europe and America. As early as 1996 workers have been found ill due to the unregulated use of solvents, thinner and glue without any protective equipment supplied. Chen Renbing died in 1996 due to poisoning after working there for a decade. Huang Meixian gave birth to a disabled child after working there for seven years. In 2004 Huang Xiaoyou was diagnosed with leukaemia. Cheng Yi started feeling unwell since 2009, with bouts of dizziness and chest tightness. A doctor diagnosed her as having Myelodysplastic Syndrome (pre-leukaemia) in October 2009, and advised that she could only live for 2 more years. Miraculously her situation stabilised, yet she was less lucky on the compensation front.
Since late 2009 she and her husband have embarked on the tortuous road of occupational disease diagnosis. The factory denied that her disease was occupational and refused to cooperate with the diagnostic process. After repeated complaints and petitioning, the couples finally forced the factory to provide the necessary documents and received a diagnosis. To their surprise, the hospital concluded that her disease was not occupational. For two whole years they tried to go through all possible proper procedures to overturn the result, but without any success. They had exhausted all channels of appeal, and the couples were left with no affirmative diagnosis, no compensation, no job, and a broke and broken family. They were forced to send their son to their relatives since they could not afford his tuition fee in Guangdong.
A regime of impunity Contrary to the common expectation, many of the cases we have come across are not from small and unregulated workshops. These poisoning cases occur in well-established, reputable factories, which know about the hazards posed by benzene, which have the resources and know-how to avoid the hazard, but which carry on using this hazardous substance by choice. Such choice is often a result of cynical, cold-blooded cost-analysis. Occupational poisoning are hard to prove, and most of the times the workers do not even aware that their sickness might be occupationally caused. While the cost of benzene on human lives is devastating, the cost on the companies is often minimal. Thus it is no wonder that companies do not consider alternatives to benzene even when they have a long history of benzene poisoning.
Such practice of blatantly disregarding workers lives, perpetrated by some of the biggest players in the industries, must be stopped.
4. Benzene regulations in the world While benzene had enjoyed wide application early on,16 its use has subsequently been heavily circumscribed due to the discovery of its carcinogenicity.
In 1971, ILO passed the Benzene Convention (C136) 17 . Article 2(1) states that, “[w]henever harmless or less harmful substitute products are available, they shall be used instead of benzene or products containing benzene.” Article 4 mandates that the use of benzene and of products containing benzene as a solvent or diluent shall be prohibited, except where the process is carried out in an enclosed system or where there are other equally safe methods of work. Regrettably, to date only 38 countries have ratified the Benzene Convention.18
In the European Union, benzene has been classified as a category I carcinogen as early as 1967. 19 Its use is restricted by the Marketing and Use Directive (76/769/EEC). 20 Benzene is not allowed to be placed on the market, used as a substance, or as a constituent of mixtures in concentration greater than 0.1% by weight. In particular strict restriction is placed on its use in toys. Regulation (EC) 1907/2006, concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), reaffirmed the above rules.
In the United States, benzene was withdrawn from consumer products since 1978. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set a permissible exposure limit of 1 ppm in the workplace during an 8 hours’ workday, 40 hours’ workweek. The United Kingdom has the same exposure limit,21 and employers are required to eliminate its use or substitute a safer material where possible. In China, the corresponding limit is 1.878 ppm.22
However, even when the stricter 1 ppm limit is complied with, exposure for a working lifetime is estimated to cause 5 excess leukaemia deaths per 1,000 employees exposed.23 Given the prevalent use of benzene in developing countries, that will translate into millions of avoidable deaths.24 The use of benzene in the workplace should be more strictly circumscribed then that.
Disturbing examples of early usage of benzene includes after-shave lotion and decaffeinate coffee.
They are Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guinea, Guyana, Hungary, India, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, Morocco, Nicaragua, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Syrian Arab Republic, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Uruguay and Zambia 19 Directive 67/548/EEC 20 As amended by Directives 82/806 and 89/677. 21 Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 22 Or 6 mg/m3 23 Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=19&po=10) 24 According to official statistics, 200 million workers in China are currently exposed to hazardous substances. Assuming only one tenth handle benzene – probably a conservative estimate – a 1 ppm concentration of benzene in the workplace would have cause the death of 100,000 workers. 18
5. What are the alternatives to benzene? The use of benzene as a solvent has been largely phased out in the West, as safer alternatives can often be found. Benzene-free paints are now commercially available, so is benzene-free glue. Cyclohexane is often used as an alternative to benzene in electroplating, rubber manufacturing and varnish solvents. Heptane is another effective replacement for benzene, and is commercially available for use in paints and coating, and as a solvent. Many other non-polar solvents can act as alternative to benzene. Water-based paint and adhesives can also be used in place of organic-based ones. In fact, apart from the limited needs of manufacturing benzene-derived chemicals, the use of benzene is seldom absolutely necessary. It is just cheaper.25
6. Industry guidelines Certain brands, mostly in the footwear industry, have laid down guidelines banning the use of benzene, showing that a benzene ban is actually possible. However, most other industries and companies have simply put no thoughts to the matter.
Adidas has a Health and Safety Guidelines which is binding on its suppliers. The Guidelines come with a list of banned chemicals, including benzene.26 Puma has also banned the use of benzene as a solvent.27 Nike, however, allows the use of benzene in their toys products.28
It does seem that the toy industry is lacking behind in its regulation of hazardous chemicals. No guidelines on chemical use can be found in the publicly available codes of conduct of Mattel, Disney or even the International Council of Toy Industries.
In the electronics industry, most companies do have chemical guidelines. However those guidelines focus more on the chemicals contained in the final products rather than those employed in the manufacturing process. Most such guidelines make no mention of benzene, including Apple’s Regulated Substances Specification,29 HP’s Substances and Materials Requirements 30 and Samsung’s Standards for Control of Substances concerning Product Environment.31 Nokia does mention benzene in its substance list and According to a New York Times report, benzene-free glues in China are 30% more expansive than benzene containing ones. “For Want of Safer Glue, Chinese Shoemakers Get Sick“, 6 June 2000 (http://www.nytimes.com/2000/06/06/world/for-want-of-safer-glue-chinese-shoemakers-getsick.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm) 26 Adidas Group: Health and Safety Guidelines, p.43 (http://www.adidasgroup.com/de/sustainability/assets/Guidelines/2010/Health_and_Safety_Guidelines/Health_Safety_Guidelines_English.pd f) 27 PUMASafe Environment Handbook Volume 2, p.30 (http://about.puma.com/wpcontent/themes/aboutPUMA_theme/media/pdf/PUMASafeEnvironmentHandbook-Vol2_final.pdf) 28 Nike Restricted Substance List, p.41 (http://www.nikeincchemistry.com/wp-content/uploads/Abbreviated-RSL.pdf) 29 While Apple makes reference to the Specification on its website, it has not made it publicly available. 30 As laid down in HP’s General Specification for the Environment (http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/globalcitizenship/environment/pdf/gse.pdf) 31 Samsung Electronics: Standards for Control of Substances concerning Product Environment 25
mandates a ban, but the restriction applies only to the final product and not to the manufacturing process.32 Nor does the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition have any policy on chemical use in the workplace.
7. Conclusions Given what the world have known about the lethality of benzene since early 1900s, its prevalent use today is inexplicable, even shameful. Workers’ lives are being sacrificed in the millions while safer alternatives have always been available. This must be stopped. In particular:
Intentional use of benzene as a solvent must be completely banned. This would eliminate benzene from its most common usage in paint, glues and cleaning agents. Use of benzene should be restricted to the manufacturing of benzene derivatives only. ILO should amend the Benzene Convention to effect a complete ban of benzene in solvents, and push for more ratification. Countries should adopt legislation banning the use of benzene except where absolutely necessary In the absence of local legislation, industries susceptible to benzene poisoning, including toys, footwear, electronics and jewellery among others, should adopt a “zero benzene” policy. Companies should laid down detailed restrictions on chemical use in their manufacturing process as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) program.
(http://www.samsung.com/us/aboutsamsung/sustainability/environment/chemicalmanagement/download/SEC_Standard_0 QA-2049_Rev14_EN.pdf) 32 Nokia Substance List (http://i.nokia.com/blob/view/-/2085338/data/1/-/Nokia-Substance-List-2013-xls.xlsx)
Ban Benzene Declaration (As translated from Chinese) From http://banbenzenecampaign.weebly.com/ban-benzene-declaration.html
We are a group of benzene-poisoned patients and people concerned about the issue of benzene poisoning. Some of us are afflicted with leukaemia, some with aplastic anaemia, some with leukopenia. Most of our conditions are chronic and incurable. We are saddled with these diseases all because of the widespread use of a poisonous chemical in many factories - benzene!
Benzene has an exceptionally wide range of industrial and daily usage. It is found in the glues in shoe-making factories, in coatings on toys, in cleaning agents in the electronic industry, in paints on furniture, and in derusting agents in hardware industry. In the developing world, almost every industrial process that involves painting, gluing or cleaning would involve benzene. Benzene is the most commonly encountered partner of the front line workers.
Yet benzene is also a well-known carcinogen since the early 1900s. It has been proven that benzene can cause a number of blood anomalies and even birth defects. In China, new cases of benzene poisoning are uncovered daily, causing the death of many including a lot of youngsters under 20. Benzene is highly toxic - even under a strict exposure limit of 1ppm, it would still lead to the death of 5 people per 1000 exposed. Given its current unregulated and widespread use in China, it is estimated that up to a million workers would be killed by benzene.
Benzene is not irreplaceable; benzene-free glues and paints have long been developed. Yet, companies big and small, local and trans-national, are still using benzene with abandon - all out of cost saving calculations. Such reckless acts lead to the continuous creation of tragedies. While the western world is phasing out benzene, the same poisonous substance is enjoying increasing demands from the developing world.
The widespread occurrence of benzene poisoning is taking its toll on the country. It leads to the loss of many young labour force and hence the driving power of economic development. At the same time it creates a huge burden on the society. Take the example of a benzene-poisoned leukaemia patient in Guangdong. He needs to spend over ÂĽ 300,000 (about US$50,000) a year on his treatment, and six years on since his diagnosis, he has already spent over ÂĽ 2 million. The number is terrifying when you consider the huge number of benzene-poisoned workers. The financial and emotional burdens in turn affect the workersâ€™ family members, and have already led to many broken families.
Workers are not the only group susceptible to benzene poisoning. Benzene containing waste water can cause long-term pollution to underground water. Benzene is also highly volatile, and would adversely affect the air quality of the areas surrounding benzeneusing factories. Consumers are also at risk by buying benzene-containing solvents or products, which might have a particularly harmful effect on children. Members of the public should be aware of the risk benzene posed, and we hope to have your support in calling for a benzene ban.
The continuous use of benzene in the face of longstanding evidence of its harm is blatant murder. This must be stopped!
We call for: A complete ban of benzene-containing solvents!
We demand: 1. Companies and brands to take immediate action to eliminate the use of benzene in their supply chains; 2. Chinese government to legislate against the industrial use of benzene-containing solvents (with only limited exception in the production of benzene compound), and to ratify the Benzene Convention (C136).
We must not merely look on as companies continue to trade the lives of millions for transient profits! From this moment on, say no to benzene!
Diagnostic Criteria of Occupational Benzene Poisoning GBZ 68-2013 (Translated from Chinese)
The present criteria are formulated in accordance with the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases.
The present criteria were drafted in accordance with the rules provided in GB/T 1.1-2009.
The present criteria shall be mandatory, except section 5.1 which shall be recommendatory,
The present criteria shall replace GBZ 68-2008 Diagnostic Criteria of Benzene Poisoning.
Major amendments of the present criteria from GBZ 68-2008 are: - provisions with regard to “subject under medical surveillance” were removed; - platelet critical counts with respect to chronic mild poisoning and chronic moderate poisoning were modified.
The present criteria were promulgated by the Expert Committee on Occupational Disease Diagnosis under the Ministry of Health.
The present criteria were drafted by Huashan Hospital, Fudan University. The following parties have also contributed to the drafting process: Shanghai Yangpu District Central Hospital, Shanghai Hospital of Occupational Disease, Shanghai Institute of Occupational Disease for Chemical Industry, Shanghai Municipal Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Xin Hua Hospital Affiliated to Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine, Taizhou Hospital of Zhejiang Province, and the First People’s Hospital of Wenling.
The present criteria were drafted collectively by the following individuals: Zou Huojian, Lu Ling, Wan Weiguo, Huang Jianshu, Ni Weimin, Sun Daoyuan, Li Sihui, Wang Peili, Cao
Zhongcing, Zhang Kaijing, and Yang Yunfang.
The present criteria shall replace the criteria previously published in the following order: - GB 3230-1982, GB 3230-1997 - GBZ 68-2002, GBZ 68-2008.
Diagnosis of Occupational Benzene Poisoning
1. Scope The present criteria contain regulations with regard to the diagnosis of occupational benzene poisoning, diagnosis writing formats and treatment principles.
The present criteria shall apply to the diagnosis and treatment of poisoning due to benzene exposure in occupational activities. They may be applied in benzene poisoning cases due to exposure to benzene-containing industrial chemicals, such as toluene and dimethylbenzene.
2. Normative References The following documents are essential to the application of the present document. For dated references, only the dated editions shall apply to the present document, for undated references, the most updated editions (including all amendments) shall apply to the present document.
GB/T 16180 Standard for Identifying Work Ability - Gradation of Disability Caused by Work-related Injuries and occupational diseases GBZ 76 Diagnostic Criteria of Occupational Acute Neurotoxic Diseases Caused by Chemicals GBZ 78 Diagnostic Criteria of Occupational Chemical-induced Sudden Death GBZ 94 Diagnostic Criteria of Occupational Cancer WS/T 244 Reference Method for Platelet Counting WS/T 245 Reference Method for the Enumeration of Erythrocytes and Leucocytes
3. Diagnostic Principles 3.1 Acute Benzene Poisoning
Diagnosis of acute benzene poisoning shall only be made by a comprehensive analysis of the following criteria: an occupational history of short-term, excessive inhalation of benzene vapour, primary clinical findings of consciousness disturbance, on-site occupational health investigation, laboratory test indexes, and the exclusion of possible central nervous system damage due to other illnesses.
3.2 Chronic Benzene Poisoning Diagnosis of chronic benzene poisoning shall only be made by a comprehensive analysis of the following criteria: an occupational history of prolonged close exposure to benzene, primary clinical findings of damage in the hematopoietic system, on-site occupational health investigation, laboratory test indexes, and the exclusion of possible blood or bone marrow changes due to other illnesses or reasons.
4 Diagnostic Classifications 4.1 Acute Benzene Poisoning 4.1.1 Mild Poisoning Symptoms of dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting and mucosal irritation, accompanied by mild consciousness disturbance, after short-term and excessive inhalation of benzene vapour. (See GBZ 76)
4.1.2 Severe Poisoning Clinical manifestation of one of the following symptoms, after excessive inhalation of Benzene vapour: a) Moderate to severe consciousness disturbance (See GBZ 76); b) Respiratory and circulatory failure; c) Sudden death (See GBZ 78).
4.2 Chronic Benzene Poisoning 4.2.1 Mild Poisoning An occupational history of prolonged close exposure to benzene, accompanied by symptoms such as dizziness, headache, fatigue, insomnia, memory loss, and susceptibility to infections.
Biweekly examination of Complete Blood Count (CBC) in three months, the result of which satisfy one of the following criteria: a) Leukocyte count mostly lower than 4x10^9/L, or neutrophilic granulocyte count lower
than 2x10^9/L; b) Platelet count mostly lower than 80x10^9/L.
4.2.2 Moderate Poisoning Symptoms of chronic mild poisoning are usual. In addition, there shall be susceptibility to infections and (or) haemorrhages. One of the following criteria shall be satisfied: a) Leukocyte count lower than 4x10^9/L or neutrophilic granulocyte count lower than 2x10^9/L, accompanied by a platelet count lower than 80x10^9/L; b) Leukocyte count lower than 3x10^9/L or neutrophilic granulocyte count lower than 1.5x10^9/L; c) Platelet count lower than 60x10^9/L.
4.2.3 Severe Poisoning In addition to a diagnosis of moderate poisoning, one of the following criteria shall be satisfied: a) Pancytopenia; b) Aplastic Anaemia; c) Myelodysplastic Syndromes; d) Leukaemia.
5. Treatment Principles 5.1 Remedies 5.1.1 Acute Poisoning Transfer the poisoned patient to a place with fresh air immediately. Remove the benzenecontaminated clothing and wash the contaminated skin parts with soap and water, during which the patient must be kept warm. First-aid shall conform to general medicine principles, and adrenaline treatment shall be refrained from.
5.1.2 Chronic Poisoning There are no specific antidotes. Treatment shall be prescribed according to the type of blood disorder caused by hematopoietic system damage.
5.2 Other Treatments 5.2.1 Acute Poisoning
Mildly-poisoned patients shall return to their original job positions after recovery; severely-poisoned patients shall be removed from their original job positions in principle. GB/T 16180 shall be referenced if work ability assessments are necessary.
5.2.2 Chronic Poisoning Patients shall be removed immediately from all types of work involving benzene and other harmful substances after diagnosis is confirmed. GB/T 16180 shall be referenced if work ability assessments are necessary.
6 Proper use of the present criteria
Please refer to Appendix A.
Appendix A (Informative Appendix) Proper Use of the Present Criteria
A.1 Operations and works causing benzene poisoning Benzene is used mainly as solvents, diluents and industrial chemical during productions. Operations and works involving benzene as solvents or diluents, or as a raw material, may lead to the case of benzene poisoning.
A.2 Sudden death due to benzene poisoning Sudden deaths may occur to individual workers exposed to highly concentrated Benzene. Please refer to GBZ 78 for their diagnosis.
A.3 Complete Blood Count (CBC) Test Method The methods of testing complete blood count may vary for different medical institutions, such as by direct microscopic count or using an automatic haematology analyser. The present criteria stipulate that automatic haematology analyser (WS/T 244 and WS/T 245) shall be used for testing complete blood count after a phlebotomy. Differences with respect to the above method shall be regarded when other methods are used for testing and analysis.
A.4 Peripheral Blood Cell Morphology Examination Due to the use of automatic haematology analyser in occupational health examinations, morphological change of peripheral blood cells cannot be observed. When peripheral blood cells count is unusual, a microscopic morphology examination shall be conducted. Certain patients suffering from leukaemia or potential leukaemia may show an increased count of peripheral blood leukocytes. This may be accompanied by leukocyte abnormalities, such as undeveloped cells, irregular nuclei, or vacuolar and nuclear degeneration; if the toxicity of benzene affects the red blood cells, haemoglobin synthesis difficulty or irregular cells may result. Otherwise, if myelodysplastic syndromes occur, peripheral blood cells would mainly show irregularity in size and nucleoplasmic irregularities. Morphology examination may be helpful in diagnosing and classifying chronic benzene poisoning.
A.5 Bone Marrow Examination Bone marrow examination may help assess the situation of hematopoietic damage. For patients suffering from chronic poisoning, discovery of signs such as specific blood cell irregularities, pancytopenia, aplastic anaemia, myelodysplastic syndromes and leukaemia would be helpful in diagnosing and classifying the poison. As a single bone marrow smear examination may not accurately reflect the conditions, multiple puncturing or biopsies at different parts of the body may be necessary in cases of uncertainty.
A.6 Occupational Time Frame for Chronic Benzene Poisoning For the most part, chronic benzene poisoning results from benzene exposure of more than three months. However, certain patients with a consecutive occupational history of less than three months, but with a high daily exposure to concentrated benzene, would show signs of lower peripheral blood cell count, or even aplastic anaemia. This type of aplastic anaemia, however, recovers better after positive treatments. These cases shall be differentiated from traditional chronic poisoning; time-wise they are classified as “subacute”, but they share clinical symptoms with chronic benzene poisoning. Thus they differ from the regular notion that subacute poisonings would show similar clinical symptoms with acute poisonings. The present criteria have classified these cases as chronic benzene poisoning; however, the above type of patients shall be given extra care for data collection and later modification of these criteria.
A.7 Benzene-induced Leukaemia Benzene-induced leukaemia has been included in GBZ 94, which has stipulated that with respect to the diagnosis of Benzene-induced leukaemia, the consecutive occupational history shall be one year or above, and the latent period shall be the same. GBZ 94 shall apply when diagnosing “Occupational Chronic Severe Poisoning (Leukaemia)”.
A.8 Naming and Writing Format of Benzene-Poisoning Diagnosis The formulation of official naming and writing format of diagnosis is beneficial to diagnostic work, clinical data collection, guided treatments and future research.
Acute benzene poisoning shall be named and written as: “Acute Mild Benzene Poisoning” or “Acute Severe Benzene Poisoning”.
Chronic benzene poisoning shall be named and written as: a) Chronic Mild Benzene Poisoning: 1) Chronic Mild Benzene Poisoning (Leukopenia); 2) Chronic Mild Benzene Poisoning (Neutrophilic Granuloaytopenia); 3) Chronic Mild Benzene Poisoning (Thrombocytopenia); b) Chronic Moderate Benzene Poisoning; 1) Chronic Moderate Benzene Poisoning (Leukopenia, with Thrombocytopenia) 2) Chronic Moderate Benzene Poisoning (Neutrophilic Granuloaytopenia, with Thrombocytopenia) 3) Chronic Moderate Benzene Poisoning (Leukopenia) 4) Chronic Moderate Benzene Poisoning (Neutrophilic Granuloaytopenia) 5) Chronic Moderate Benzene Poisoning (Thrombocytopenia) c) Chronic Severe Benzene Poisoning 1) Chronic Severe Benzene Poisoning (Pancytopenia); 2) Chronic Severe Benzene Poisoning (Aplastic anaemia); 3) Chronic Severe Benzene Poisoning (Myelodysplastic Syndromes); 4) Chronic Severe Benzene Poisoning (Leukaemia).
Philips Lighting China Co (PLC) According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Philips Lighting China (PLC) is the manufacturing arm of lighting system in mainland China where it “operates as a subsidiary of Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV”.
According to page 56 of the annual report of Koninklijke Philips NV released in 2013, its lighting branch has recorded the highest rate of lost workday injuries for five consecutive years since 2009.
Occupational Diseases – the case of ZHANG Cairu （張彩如） Ms Zhang was born in Shanxi province in 1979. She began to work as a general worker for a Philips lighting factory in Shenzhen, Guangdong province in 2010. Zhang had strangely concluded two fix-term employment contracts. One was the contract of employment with Philips Consumer Luminaires Manufacturing (Shenzhen) Company Limited (PCLMS), signed on 24 December 2010 and valid until 31 December 2013. Under the section of labour protection and occupational hazards of her contract, it specifically stated that [the employee] engages in spraying paint, where there is a potential occupational hazard of benzene poisoning. The department would outline a relevant protective measure in accordance with the Law on Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases. [The employee] would also be organised for annual health check.
Meanwhile, Zhang has another contract with a labour dispatch company (i.e., an employment agency). It was not signed by both parties. It was also a fix-term contract although the contract period had a little variation comparing with the one with Philips, but it did clearly state that she would be assigned to work for PCLMS. This contract did not specifically referred to the possibility of occupational benzene poisoning even though there is some general duties of care by the labour dispatch company or the hiring company.
Zhang was found diagnosed with work-related leukopenia in an annual health check in 2011. In her official diagnosis certified by the Shenzhen occupational diseases hospital on 26 November 2012, it highlighted that she had used paints, thinner and anti-rust oil in the workplace. The company provided mask and gloves. It also stated that she did not have any benzene-related health problem found in the pre-employment health check. On the certificate, the employer was printed â€œPhilips Consumer Luminaires Manufacturing (Shenzhen) Company Limitedâ€? even though she has had an unsigned contract with the employment agency.
PCLMS disagreed with this diagnosis. It appealed against the decision to the Shenzhen municipal committee of the occupational diseases diagnostic confirmation. The municipal committee accepted the appeal and decided to reverse the conclusion on 22 March 2013. With the assistance of LAC, Zhang appealed to the Guangdong provincial committee of the occupational diseases diagnostic confirmation. The first and original diagnosis was affirmed and reinstated on 13 May 2013. This is the final decision.
Based on this first and original diagnosis, the Shenzhen municipal department of human resources and social security (HRSS) concluded that her illness was work-related. It was decided on 18 January 2013.
Ms Zhang was married to Mr FAN Quanzhan in 1995. The couple has two teenage daughters in fill-time secondary education. Her octogenarian in-laws are both suffering from various geriatric illnesses. Her father-in-law is bedridden. Her husband is taking care of their frail and aging parents and two daughters in their rural hometown in Anhui province, which has left her to be the sole breadwinner of this six personsâ€™ household.
ASM Pacific Technology (ASMPT) Basic Information ASM Pacific Technology (ASMPT) is a public listed company in Hong Kong. It is the largest assembly and packaging equipment supplier. Its parent company is the Dutch-based ASM International NV, which is the single largest shareholder controlled 40.08 per cent of its shares through ASM Pacific Holding BV. Other major shareholders include Aberdeen Asset Management plc and its associates (14.08%), The Capital Group Companies Inc (10.15%), and Genesis Asset Managers LLP (5.99%).
LAC has documented two cases of occupational diseases related to ASMPT. They were Mr MING Kunpeng and Mr HU Jiayong. Both victims died in 2013. They used to work for Shenzhen ASM Micro Electronic Technology (STJ), which is a subsidiary of ASM China (AC) under the control of ASMPT as shown in the chart above. Apart from these two cases of occupational diseases, LAC also recorded the recent 22 days’ industrial action broke out in late October 2013. The causation of this labour dispute was due to the relocation of STJ.
According to the website of ASMPT, STJ is responsible for fabricated parts and subassembly in the group’s division of labour. The operations of STJ have been scattering over three different industrial compounds namely Pacific, Haipeng, and Shatoujiao, which these three compounds are all in a closed geographic proximity, situated in Yantian district of the Shenzhen municipality.
Occupational Diseases – the case of MING Kunpeng （明鯤鵬） Ming committed suicide in December 2013.
Before he was diagnosed with occupational disease, Ming used to work for STJ in between April 2007 and June 2009. From April to October 2007, he worked in the A05 workshop where his job duty was cutting circuit boards, but there was no potential occupational
hazards. His job duty was subsequently changed to do wave soldering in the same workshop. This time, he was required to use liquid rosin flux, thinner, tin, and cleaning solvent. His job duty was once again changed to operate the SMT machines in the same workshop. In his new duty, he needed to use solder paste and screen washing agent.
On 31 December 2009, the occupational diagnostic evaluation committee affirmed Ming’s diagnosis that he had developed benzene-induced leukaemia, a form of occupational cancer. STJ did provide evidence of environmental inspection, but these results did not cover the workshop where Ming used to work and STJ could not provide such evidence in that workshop in the appeal. Hence, the committee decided to confer the benefit of reasonable doubt to Ming that his illness was occupational because the onus probandi rested upon his employer. Indeed, it is natural for the committee to do so for the fact that it is the indispensable responsibility for the employer to establish and improve an occupational hazards monitoring and evaluation system in the workplace in accordance with article 21(5) of the Law on Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases.
Ming applied for the recognition of work-related injury to the Shenzhen department of human resources and social security (HRSS) after his diagnosis was affirmed. The department accepted his request and confirmed his illness was occupational as per section 9(4) of the Regulations of Guangdong Province on Work-Related Injury Insurance.
Ming was assessed and confirmed as having a third degree disability by the labour appraisal committee. He suffered deficiency in self-care. His family intended to reach a settlement for compensation. So his father sought the clarification from the HRSS department that Ming remained entitled to work-related injury insurance where his basic medical care was covered by work-related injury insurance fund in accordance with section 29 of the Regulations of Guangdong Province on Work-Related Injury Insurance despite the fact that his employment relation with STJ was severed.
With the auspices of LAC, Ming reached an agreement with STJ on 26 April 2013. Both parties agreed to terminate Ming’s employment relation because it would not alter his entitlement to work-related injury insurance. In addition, STJ would pay out a lump-sum in the amount of ¥ 600,000.00 to cover a bundle of compensations including the hardship subsidies, economic compensation, personal injury compensation, mental damages, dependent relatives pension, one-off disability benefits, one-off injury medical subsidy, disability allowance, rehabilitative medical follow-up costs, hospitalisation allowance, care allowance and other entitled fringe benefits during his off-sick period.
Occupational Diseases – the case of HU Jiayong （胡家勇） Hu originated from Yongzhou in Hunan province. He graduated from a university in 1996 and immediately recruited to work for STJ until his death. Hu was a CNC machine operator in the J02 workshop during June 1996 and May 1998. Then, he was promoted
to become a team leader of the same workshop. In December 1999, he was deployed to the J16 workshop and worked as a technician in the office. Because of his diligence and hard-working, Hu was promoted again and became a supervisor of the same workshop in April 2002. In June 2004, the company decided to deploy him to the J29 workshop. Within two and a half years of working in the J29 workshop, the company once again promoted him to be a manager in January 2007. He stayed in the same position for the next three years until the management promoted him to become the department head in 2011. He was moved to head both J88 and J11 workshops in September 2011. One month later, he also headed the J51 workshop until his death.
Although Hu was a department head, his last basic salary was just ¥ 2,700.00 per month. Nevertheless, he received ¥ 7,775.00 from his other entitled allowances. It is noted that the statutory minimum wage in Shenzhen was ¥ 1,500.00 in the year of 2013.
In Hu’s occupational history provided by STJ, the company stated that there was no such necessary to offer any protective equipment for the reason of no potential occupational hazard found in every single different positions that Mr Hu served during his years of service. On the contrary, the official certificate for the diagnosis of occupational diseases issued by the provincial occupational diseases hospital stated that Hu was posed under the potential occupational threat from coolant, alcohol, slideway oil, metal cleaners, kerosene, as well as epoxy resin.
On the death certificate, the direct causes of death for Hu included respiratory failure, septic shock, and infectious diarrhoea which were the common complication of acute leukaemia. Other fatal problems led to his death were atrial septal defect and cardiomegaly.
As per the US National Institute of Health, leukaemia is one of the risk factors for septic shock. Toxins released by the bacteria or fungi may cause tissue damage, and may lead to low blood pressure and poor organ function. The body also produces a strong inflammatory response to the toxins. This inflammation may contribute to organ damage. Hu died on 31 July 2013 at Nanfeng Hospital in Guangzhou.
The official certificate for the diagnosis of occupational diseases states that Hu had contracted benzene-induced leukaemia, which is one of the recognised forms of occupational cancers in China. This result was based on the cytopathological examination. The accumulated exposure to benzene in the workplace and the latent period were both over one year. Meanwhile, the employer failed to provide the monitoring and evaluative data from the inspection to the occupational hazards in the workplace. Similar to the case of Ming, STJ has had the burden of proof that Hu had not contacted benzene at all in his workplace.
Despite that, STJ objected to this diagnosis and decided to appeal against such conclusion. Mrs Hu, with the assistance of LAC, is dealing with this.
Collective Labour Dispute Apart from the cases of Ming and Hu, there was a 22 days’ strike broke out in the industrial compounds of STJ in between late October and mid-November 2013. Prior to this industrial action, a Shenzhen-based grassroots organisation arranged a training workshop on the basic knowledge of collective negotiation for some STJ workers in September 2013. LAC was mentoring that grassroots organisation.
LAC monitored and documented this strike. In order to give a thorough understanding and analysis to the success and failure of this incident, an interview to Mr WANG (a pseudonym) was conducted four months after the strike. Wang was one of the training workshop participants. He was one of the 16 workers’ representatives. He resigned in November 2013 due to constructive dismissal. He remained unemployed. In this interview, Wang talked about the labour conditions, the grassroots trade union, the problems of occupational safety and health, and their strike.
Wang started to work for STJ in February 2004. He signed a permanent contract of employment. He worked in J17 workshop to operate lathes. His standard working hour was eight hours per day which was stipulated in his contract. However, almost all workers worked 10 hours per day. It became a norm that they had to work extra hours. Wang said that he used to work between 100 and 130 hours beyond his normal working hours.
When he joined STJ, his basic wage was some ¥ 2,000 including other entitlements. His last income rose to some ¥ 5,000, which ¥ 2,200 constituted his basic wage, some ¥ 1,000 was his overtime pay and the rest came from other entitlements, for example, the housing allowance.
* Labour Relations * Wang stated that the recent labour relations was not as good as the time when he first joined, because the company was trying to maximise its profit. He said, for instance, the company would not take the initiatives to increase the wage even though ASMPT recorded a huge amount of profit. The pay rise in STJ was merely a routine practice reflecting the official rise of minimum wages ordered by the Shenzhen municipal government. Nevertheless, he stated STJ did not increase our wages according to the official requirement. Although the basic wages seemed to have a significant increase, the company reduced the amount of other entitlements. Say, for example, in 2004, the basic monthly wage was ¥490. The company increased it to approximately ¥610 or something, I cannot remember the exact amount. You could say that there was an increase of ¥120, where ¥70 or ¥80 might be the genuine pay rise but the remaining ¥40 or ¥50 could come from the
deduction of other entitlements. It appeared that there was an elevation on the surface, but it was, in fact, a relegation.
According to Wang, the issue of pay rise has already stirred up the grievances of many workers because they believed that it was unreasonable. In 2009, a stoppage was broken out in all three industrial compounds of STJ even though it was an unorganised one lasted for three days only. Likewise, another stoppage took place in 2010. The overtime pay and meal allowance were the triggering points of that industrial action. It was a relatively disorganised action despite of the fact that it was coordinated by each workshop themselves, but it lacked a central body to organise. These two stoppages were swiftly pacified after the management.
* Trade Union * STJ established its grassroots enterprise-based trade union as it was required by the municipal trade union in 2006. The leadership of this grassroots union was dominated by a committee constituted of supervisors and managers. The chairperson of the trade union was, in fact, the manager of the administrative department. It was absolutely a conflict of interest. The formation of this committee was not through popular vote by all general workers because they claimed that they did not know of its establishment until it was announced by the management. Wang recalled that there was no publicity on its formation, composition and function.
Besides, the striking workers discovered out that there was no re-election conducted in the past seven years since its establishment. According to article 15 of the Trade Union Law and article 26 of the Constitution of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), the STJ trade union was deemed as a grassroots trade union which the tenure of its committee should not last longer than five years. Hence, the first term ought to end in 2011. As such, one of the demands in this strike was to re-elect their grassroots trade union which could genuinely represent their own interests. They appealed to the official trade union on the district level for assistance on the issue of re-election. However, the supervising official trade union did not want to come forward. This appeal was ended up with nothing came.
* Occupational Safety and Health * Wang operated manual lathes by the time when he started to work for STJ. Noise was one of the serious potential occupational hazards. Apart from that, dust was another threat to the health of workers in his workshop. At that time, they were given simple protective equipment, such as paper mask, ordinary plastic ear plugs and goggles. These perfunctory equipment were purely showcasing that STJ had done something. They did not have any effect in protecting the health of workers. In spite of that decorative purpose, they were not given to all workers. Instead, an application process was needed.
Wang said that he used coolant, thinner, screen washing agent, kerosene, and alcohol at work. He added, the windows of all STJ workshops were sealed. The ventilation was extremely poor. It was quite unpleasant to work in such environment where the heat released from machines mixed with the odour of chemicals. He highlighted that [w]hen we wore our uniform outside and bumped into some acquaintances on the street, they did not need us to tell them what our job was but they could “smell” from our uniform. I am sure you can tell how abysmal and grim that our working condition was.
Some workers ought to handle various kinds of chemicals. Nonetheless, the STJ management would not inform workers on the potential occupational hazard. Some friendly and responsible supervisors might occasionally and casually brief their subordinate about the proper way of handling these chemicals and how they could avoid injuring themselves. But that was not official. Neither the management would arrange and organise any formal trainings for workers in handling these toxic chemicals, nor would they mention about the potential threats to personal safety and health. Wang explained explicitly that [STJ] lacked an internal OSH cultural. Of course, they won’t tell you the long-term hazardous effects to workers. Otherwise, who would want to do these jobs??
According to article 35 of the Law on Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases, it is the duty of the employers to organise their workers to attend for occupational health training before and during their assignments. The purpose is to increase the popular knowledge and awareness of occupational safety and health. It is also their interdependent duty to urge their workers complying with relevant laws and instructing them the proper use of occupational protective equipment. If any worker failed to comply, it was essential for the employer to re-educate them.
In general, more than 80 per cent of workers from mechanical processing workshops had been suffering from different forms of respiratory infections, vision loss and hearing loss. Scapulohumeral periarthritis and arthritis are common after long term and repeated actions. Almost all workers could only accept these as minor health problems and they would go to the local pharmacies or clinics for some drugs unless that became serious. Obviously, they would have any idea on their actual health conditions until the symptoms surfaced. But, that could be too late, just like Hu whom shortly died of benzene-induced leukaemia.
All new workers were required to pay for their own medical examination before appointment. Wang stated that it was the only health check apart from the one organised by the company. He continued, many workers were required to take leaves during the global financial crisis in 2008. He was one of them. He eventually found he had hearing loss. Therefore, he went to the Shenzhen municipal occupational hospital for an examination. His supervisor discovered this and reported to the management. In 2009, workers from selective workshops were asked to take an audiological examination in designated hospitals. When he requested for an examination, he was rejected because the management replied that there was no such hazard in his workplace. All results were
come back clear. The staff from the work safety department came to inspect the noise in his workshop one day. They measured and recorded 74 decibel, but they claimed that it was not noisy enough to reach the lowest threshold to call it an occupational hazard. His other fellow workers argued that they should also go to measure in the grinding machine room. These work safety people simply ignored their request and left.
According to article 21(4) of the Law on the Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases, all employers have to establish and improve a health care filing system for all individual workers. It is the right of worker to have occupational health check as per article 40(2) of the same law, despite the fact that they might not be on a job where potential occupational health hazard is recognised. Meanwhile, the employer shall organise safety production supervision and management in accordance with the provisions of the State Council and the health administrative department for those workers engaged in a duty exposing to occupational hazards. They should undergo health check before, during, and after their appointment. They should be informed of the results in printed form and the costs are borne by the employer, states in article 36.
* The 22 Days’ Strike * 31 October was the first day of strike. Prior to that, there was a small-scaled three days’ stoppage happened in March, responding to the relocation of one workshop to the neighbouring city of Huizhou. Wang stated that STJ had the arrangement for relocation in 2012, but its plan was restricted to the top management. The Shenzhen municipal government has proposed a redevelopment project in Yantian district. The acquisition would affect both STJ’s Pacific and Haipeng industrial compounds. The redevelopment project has been publicly announced a few years ago. In 2013, they started to relocate some machinery bit by bit to its Huizhou compound. Some workers started to aware the seriousness of this low-profile relocation. Workers of the J07 workshop had a stoppage for a week in March 2013. That industrial action had successfully halted the relocation. STJ issued a notice claiming that it was “rooted in Yiantian”.
This latest strike appeared to be the evolving development of the first one where it was perceivably triggered by a number of reasons. It was widely speculated by the affected workers that the new Huizhou industrial compound would house the affected workshops. Thus, affected workers decided to demand for a buy-out of their length of service, because they feared that they might lose their length of service after they would move to the new site in the neighbouring city of Huizhou where the management could force the workers to conclude a new contract of employment.
Nonetheless, the company did not want to pay any compensation to the affected workers, which the vast majority of the workers believed that ASMPT had had the responsibility to do so as per the laws. Wang highlighted that the recorded highest turnover for ASMPT was US$1.6b; even the company recorded HK$0.9b turnover during the global financial crisis in 2008-2009. He agreed that it was the capitalists who took their own capitals to
start the business, but he reminded that its fruitful profits came from the collective diligence and hard-working of the workers. Wang claimed that “we accepted a pay freeze during the global financial crisis in 2008. They wanted us to stand together and we committed to it. However, the company had no intention to share the fruits”.
There were some rumours about the relocation spread over amongst workers. On 31 October 2013, STJ finally issued a notice to all workers and informed them about its final relocation arrangement, because STJ ought to act in concert with the municipal government that all polluting industries ought to be removed from Yiantian district. They announced the affected compounds would be relocated to Longgang district (another administrative district of the Shenzhen municipality) instead. It launched an incentive program to encourage workers to relocate to the new Longgang site. Affected workers would receive a special bonus, which would be equivalent to 0.8 or 1.6 of their wages after the completion of one year’s service at the new site. A one-off allowance would also be granted. The majority of workers believed that their interests were ignored by the company, because the company did not address their demands.
Although the new Longgang compound is still within the boundary of Shenzhen municipality, its basic infrastructures are incompatible with the existing location. Also, the new site is remote. Affected workers could have spent two hours to work. Consequently, these workers demanded STJ for a compensatory offer for redundancy before they move to the new Longgang site. The strike was sparked off in the afternoon.
Wang said that “workers were channelled by the company and hence they were compelled to take action”. He explained that the municipal government had already given STJ the deadline. It was the responsibility for STJ to deal with its workers. The senior management of ASMPT, including James Chow, came to host briefing sessions to workers of each workshop. They were merely running a few shows because they were not sincere and there was no dialogue between the management and workers. They informed what they planned to the workers. Workers were then “compelled” to take this industrial action because workers did not accept it. On the other hand, STJ could tell the government that they had do something. It was just the workers showing resistance. It was just the workers whom they refused to cooperate to the government’s plan. Thereafter, it was the municipal government’s turn to do something.
Also, Wang added that if the government would suppress the workers and crack down the strike, ASMPT could then relocate forcibly, as well as having a legitimate reason not to give any compensation. ASMPT could have a fair account that it was not the problem of the management. It was the workers whom they disagreed to the government’s proposal to the relocation. Henceforth, the municipal government should come forward to deal with it. Similarly, the management could also give an explanation to the board and its shareholders. It was, indeed, killed two birds with one stone.
In addition, it was the off-season from September to April normally. The orders were fewer than the rest of the year. When the STJ management decided to issue a notice to inform the workers of its relocation, they knew that the adverse effects of any potential industrial actions could be contained because it would not affect its production. That could be explained by the fact that some workers were ordered to take leaves during the off-season.
Workers wrote an open letter addressed to the managing director of ASMPT which stated that two other companies in Shenzhen compensated their workers on a compassionate ground even their relocations were within the municipality, because the basic infrastructures in the new district was seriously left behind.
A video clip on http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XNjI4NzI5NDQ0.html showed that striking workers gathered together. A female worker told her fellows that the local branch of ACFTU was involved. It was essential to elect representatives in order to negotiate with the management.
On 5 November, local presses stated that 2,000 to 3,000 workers were on strikes. The striking workers sat inside the sites chanting their slogans and waving their banners. Although the negotiation had begun, it had reached a stalemate for the reason that the workers did not favour their union representatives. Meanwhile, the union chairperson resigned. Workers were not organized. On the other hand, the management refused to back down. The municipal government was fortunately not involved.
Four media reported this saga on the same day. They were the Hong Kong’s proestablishment Wen Wei Post, the South China Morning Post (the biggest English newspaper of Hong Kong controlled by a pro-China Malaysian tycoon), Phoenix Satellite Television (it was jointly owned by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox International and a former senior journalist of Central People's Broadcasting Station named Liu Changle), and the Guangzhou-based Nanfang Daily.
A six points’ demand was consolidated after one week of action despite the fact that the STJ management tried to disintegrate and coerce workers. Their six demands were: (1) an increase of wages and welfare benefits back dated because the expenses on STJ workers and the profit of ASMPT did not correlate; (2) a compensation for workers’ loss incurred from the relocation. For those who refused to be relocated, STJ should compensate as per the redundancy pay required by the Labour Law; (3) election of a new committee for their grassroots trade union through popular vote in the foreseeable future; (4) standardisation of welfare entitlements for all affected workers and managers, which included the provision of shuttle bus services; (5) organisation of an election for 50 workers’ representatives whom they could represent every department in the negotiations with the STJ management and to communicate with the municipal
government. Also, the management ought to notarise that no exclusion or retaliation from happening; otherwise, the management would face claims for a huge amount of compensation; and (6) the management could not compel workers to work overtime.
LAC and Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) took the lead to stage a protest at ASMPT’s headquarters in November 6. Its vice president, Mr Lo Chan-sum, received the petition and pledged to: (a) clarify the relocation arrangements and severance payment would be paid in accordance to China’s law, and (b) take initiative to contact those 16 elected workers’ representatives and negotiate with them. In addition, both organisations concerned about the recent cases of leukaemia caused by occupational benzene poisoning. (A video clip of this protest can be found at http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XNjM0MzMzNzgw.html)
Under the auspice of the Yantian district government, the first tripartite meeting was held on 12 November, but nothing was achieved.
Some workers gave up their actions and returned to work after two weeks. They had been heavily criticised by their fellows. A grassroots organization based in Shenzhen appealed to the strikers be rational to these scabs. It claimed that it had involved in this industrial action from the beginning by providing consultations to the leading figures. However, the striking workers appeared that they did not have a plan to stop those scabs from resuming work.
15 November was the sixteenth day of this industrial action. The second round of tripartite meeting was convened. But no agreement was reached once again. The STJ management hinted that a pay rise could be possible, but not a compensation.
The management proposed a voluntary redundancy scheme. The leaking internal email showed that it was not popular among the strikers.
On the twentieth day of this strike, some workers decided to apply for a permission to march outside the factory premises from the local police. Even though the march did not realize in the end for some unknown reasons, workers found dozens of police vehicles, numerous riot police and plain clothes police gathered outside the factory.
The tipping point was happened on 20 November. The management posted a notice after the board meeting, which outlined the ultimate resolution: (i) a 20 per cent increase of wages and allowances; (ii) the meal allowance increases to ¥ 21 per day; (iii) a ¥ 200 increase of housing allowance or rent for staff quarters waived; (iv) regular meetings between workers and the STJ management would be held. Workers were given two days
to respond. If the strikers failed to elect their final decision, they would not be able to enjoy this package.
Workers from the Haipeng site started resuming work shortly after the notice was issued. 250 workers were reportedly signed up the voluntary redundancy scheme.
On 22 November, seven workers were dismissed for gross misconduct with immediate effect. This 22 days’ strike was officially come to an end after the vast majority of workers resumed their duties. ASMPT announced that they expected for a reservation of ¥ 53 million for severance pay.
Pay Rise. Their second demand was an increase in wages. Workers called for a rise of ¥ 3,000. They were inspired by the recent successes of the Port of Yantian dock workers and the Honda workers in City of Foshan. They had a few rounds of negotiations. But it was mainly steered by the management. They decided to have a 20 per cent of increase in wage. Although there were housing and meal subsidies, it was said that the Longgang industrial compound might have its cafeteria and staff quarters. Therefore, these two subsidies might cancel eventually. The year-end bonus was also cancelled.
Relocation Compensation. The municipal government did not favour workers’ appeal. For the fact that there might be more relocations within the district, 2N+1 would set a bad precedent for other enterprises.
The Official Grassroots Trade Union. This STJ grassroots union was not known to many workers. The representation of this union was highly in doubt. It even failed to provide trainings to new workers in ordinary times. Workers feared that the inaction of their grassroots trade union would compromise their interests, because it did not represent its members to negotiate with the management. Therefore, STJ workers appealed to the ACFTU of their local district for the instruction of forming a new committee, especially after the first committee resigned shortly after the strike began. However, their local supervising ACFTU tended not to do anything. The striking workers knew that there was no hope for the re-election of their grassroots trade union, they decided to choose 16 representatives to represent their interests and negotiate with the management. STJ has had three industrial compounds in Yiantian district. More than 80 per cent of workers in these three compounds went on industrial action. These representatives were chosen and endorsed by their fellow workers. They came from different workshops in three industrial compounds.
The Ultimatum. It was obvious that ASMPT and the municipal government had already agreed on something before this notice was issued, Wang said. ASMPT knew that workers could not afford to take a lawsuit against them.
Reprisal. It is reported that the management deducted the wages of a few hundred workers for those 22 days unilaterally. More than 60 of them had already pursued a labour arbitration against STJ. Their local ACFTU kindly provided free lawyer to represent the affected workers whom they signed the power of attorney. The arbitration committee did not support their claims. Wang highlighted that the lawyer did not prepare well for the appeal because that power of attorney was only valid for the arbitration. The lawsuit became nothing definite because it has already passed the deadline for appeal.
Wang exclaimed that it was a normal practice that the STJ management would retaliate. They would let the incident to settle down first and then they would find different excuses to fire workers. Alternatively, constructive dismissal is a different path to achieve this purpose. They would give you a difficult time. Wang stated that his supervisor and manager ordered him to complete an unreasonable set of tasks within a limited time. If he could not meet the target after the time was lapsed, they would report it to the management and recorded it. He, then, decided to leave STJ. He was given 11 months of salary as a compensation.
Recent Inspiring Successes of Other Industrial Actions. Prior to this strike, dock workers of the neighbouring Port of Yantian held a swift action in October 2013. They had successfully championed to secure a pay rise of ¥1,700 in their two days’ strike. Originally, these dock workers demanded for an increase of ¥ 3,000 to their monthly wage. Likewise, the Honda strikers in the City of Foshan had their significant achievement in wages increase. Indeed, both inspirational stories gave STJ workers a courage to take on their own action and a source of reference to formulate their demand.
Similar to the Port of Yantian dock workers, STJ workers demanded for a ¥ 3,000 increase in wages. They anticipated that the STJ management, just as the same as the Yantian International Container Terminals (YICT), would halve their demand. However, the successful story of dock workers in the Port of Yantian was somehow different from other cases. It was not a stand-alone strike. It should be analysed with the recent dock workers’ strike in Hong Kong. The dock workers in Hong Kong held their 40 days’ strike in between March and April 2013. Hongkong International Terminals (HIT) was a subsidiary of Hutchison Whampoa Limited (HWL). HWL has a lion share of ownership in the Port of Yantian through YICT. HWL’s reactive approach to the dock workers’ strike in Hong Kong has erased its public image. Considering the geographical proximity between the two container terminals and the political concerns across the China-Hong Kong border, it was not difficult to imagine that HWL would take a rapid respond to pacify the strike at the Port of Yantian and minimise its possible fermenting effect to stir up any labour disputes in Shenzhen or anywhere else in the Pearl River Delta. On the other hand, the grassroots trade union at the Port of Yantian involved and negotiated on behalf of workers. That grassroots union began to take shape in 2007 and has been growing its representation throughout the years, although trade unions sometimes were unreliable.
Was it a Success? Some workers reckoned that it was already a success per se as having a ¥ 600 to 700 increase in wages as a result of this strike. Although this industrial action came to a sudden end and none of their demands were answered, they perceived that this pay rise is a small step forward.
The Tipping Point. This industrial action suddenly collapsed in two days after the management tossed a resolution, or an ultimatum precisely. The most crucial point led to this defeat was the workers did not have any counter-proposal; whereas the STJ management resorted to take a strong hand to pacify this disputes through an increase of wages by 20 per cent, inter alia, recruiting the line manager to urge the resumption of work, prohibiting the exhibition of banners and chanting slogans, and providing a voluntary redundancy scheme for workers to terminate their contract of employment. Apparently, the workers’ representatives and the aiding grassroots organisation did not have their cards up the sleeves.
The second problem was the majority of striking workers could not see the bottom line of their demand for the pay rise. There was only slogans chanting instead of any concrete plan backed up by a solid analysis. Most workers could not contemplate that their representatives have thoroughly understood what bargaining chips workers had had in hand.
Indeed, the interaction between workers and their representatives was proved inadequate. It became lethal in the time of decision making where workers’ representatives could not anticipate the reaction or participation of fellow workers. The aiding grassroots organisation was heavily criticised and in question that they actually prohibited workers from discussing the participation of the day openly or even uploading the photos to websites for some inexplicable “security” reasons. It had undeniably created a mistrust.
What Have Been Achieved So Far? 27 July 2014 was the 40th anniversary of the ILO Benzene Convention (C136) entering into force, and we decided to use the occasion to launch the campaign. We drafted a “Ban Benzene Declaration” which is the manifesto. We collected more than 100 signatures from victims and others, to sign the petition against the use of benzene in various industries. This declaration demands firstly, that companies and brands take immediate action to eliminate the use of benzene in their supply chains; and secondly, that the Chinese government legislates against the industrial use of benzene-containing solvents (with only limited exception in the production of benzene compound), and to sign the Benzene Convention (C136).
Both social media and traditional media reported our campaign. The declaration was first reported by the Guangzhou Daily and subsequently adopted by other major news outlets. Nanfang Daily and Nanfang Gong Bao (the official newspaper of the ACFTU in Guangdong province) reported our action and most workers were in favour of support. Southern Television produced a short programme on the declaration where they interviewed both poisoned workers and doctors from the provincial occupational diseases prevention and treatment hospital. The doctors also expressed their support for the declaration. English version of the declaration was also circulated among our Asian network to gather more support in the region.
Ban-Benzene Conference On 28 and 29 December 2013, we organised a 2 days’ conference. We invited benzene poisoned workers from all across Guangdong province. Response was overwhelming; 65 people attended, over 50 of which were poisoned workers. Other participants included lawyers and organisers from five different civil society organisations. Such interest revealed the extent of benzene poisoning in China, which has been fast becoming an epidemic of sort.
The conference was divided into three parts: legal overview, rights defending techniques, and prevention and advocacy. We aimed less at impart knowledge, but more to provide a platform for benzene-poisoned workers to meet each other and exchange experience and support. Thus departing from an academic conference which tended to focus on topical presentation, the meeting was largely dominated by small group discussions, practical exercises and story-telling through videos. Topics included overview of the legal procedures, mock interviews with lawyers followed by a discussion on how to handle the relationship with lawyer, negotiating with the employer, usage and experience of information disclosure in the Ban Benzene Campaign, and a discussion of the causes of their current predicament. At the end of the conference, all attending workers endorsed a letter to the National People’s Congress demanding the Government to sign the Benzene Convention (C136).
T-shirts were distributed to the participating poisoned workers, which its design marked the logo of â€œBan Benzeneâ€? in the front. The group photo (above) was sent to all news outlet.
Online mobilisation In preparation for the campaign, we have set up a number of social media channels to publicise the latest action about the campaign, as well as news and report about benzene poisoning. A bilingual website: http://banbenzenecampaign.weebly.com A blog: http://blog.sina.com.cn/u/3658200967 A microblog: http://weibo.com/u/3658200967
Published on May 15, 2014