The northern province of Shaanxi plans to set up a special fund that will provide workers suffering from the deadly lung disease, pneumoconiosis, with much needed medical and economic aid, the Workers’ Daily reported on 27 December.
According to official figures, there are 23,600 rural labourers with pneumoconiosis in the province, accounting for 92 percent of all occupational disease cases. However, the actual figure is almost certainly several times higher. An investigation last year found that, of the 531 rural labourers examined in one county, 248 had suspected pneumoconiosis.
Investigators in Xunyang county found that the cost of treatment in the early stages of the disease was around 30,000 yuan per year but that it could exceed 100,000 yuan per year as the disease progressed. The rural medical insurance scheme only covered about half of their costs and as such many workers soon found themselves in debt and living in poverty because of the disease.
The idea for a special fund was raised at a joint meeting of the provincial government and trade union on 20 December and it indicates that authorities at the higher levels of government are now beginning to take the pneumoconiosis epidemic seriously, instead of leaving it to ill-equipped and poorly funded local governments.
Deputy Shaanxi Governor Li Jinzhu told the meeting: “This is the most fundamental and pressing problem affecting the vital interests of workers. Once rural labourers get this disease, they struggle to survive and some have already died. By providing aid to one victim, you provide aid for their family and help to harmonize society.”
The Workers’ Daily said the authorities hope the fund can help out workers during the Lunar New Year holiday but gave no details on how the fund was to be managed or how much the workers would actually be entitled to.
In China Labour Bulletin’s latest research report, Time to Pay the Bill: China’s obligation to the victims of pneumoconiosis, we recommended that central government establish such a fund. However, if the Shaanxi government really is prepared to devote the necessary resources to the fund at the provincial level, then it should be welcomed as a positive first step.