2.5m yuan fund pledged for poisoned workers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 April, 2009, 12:00am

Twelve cadmium-poisoned workers for Hong Kong battery maker Gold Peak Industries were promised a 2.5 million yuan (HK$2.82 million) medical fund after they staged a protest with colleagues at the company's Shenzhen factory yesterday.

More than 30 workers blocked the entrance to GP Batteries, claiming their boss had refused to discuss compensation with employees who suffered abnormally high levels of cadmium at work. They accused their boss of intending to avoid the payout by relocating all production lines by the end of June.

'Eighty workers at the battery maker's Shenzhen factory were found to have cadmium exposure in 2004 after several hundred employees working at its Huizhou factories were confirmed as having excessive levels of cadmium in check-ups,' the workers said in a jointly signed letter to the company. 'The company has now decided to close the Shenzhen factory, disregarding those affected.'

The workers' representative, Chen Guangming , said he and his wife, who had been with the company for 15 and six years respectively, had fallen ill. Their newborn baby had also been affected. They said they had suffered from nausea, headaches and exhaustion continually for the last five years.

Doctors say people who inhale cadmium dust, which is carcinogenic, may die of renal failure. Cadmium, which may remain in the body for decades, can also damage the intestinal tract.

GP Batteries denounced the protest and said it had already offered affected workers compensation and severance payments that exceeded mainland law requirements. Several protests had 'suspended the company's daily operation ... and this violated the country's laws and regulations ... [we have] arranged regular medical check-ups and subsidies and set up a special team to deal with cadmium-affected workers'.

The protesters argued that the severance payouts were a scam to trick workers into leaving so that the company would no longer be responsible. 'We don't dare leave. Previous cases of colleagues' have taught us that the company won't be responsible for anything once employees leave voluntarily,' said Guan Liqin , who has worked there for 14 years.

Ms Guan said she had not been aware of the hazards of cadmium until colleagues fell ill in 2001, but she had decided to stay until she could secure reasonable compensation for long-term medical fees. 'The one-off severance payment is about 20,000 yuan, but my colleague who fell ill had to pay 19,000 yuan for check-ups and a deposit before she could receive any treatment.' Her two children have had abnormally high levels of cadmium since birth.

About 300 workers from three factories in Huizhou and Shenzhen sued GP Batteries in 2005 and 2006, seeking 250,000 yuan per claimant, state media said. Beijing Youth Daily said at least three workers had died from suspected cadmium poisoning.