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Toxic glue poisoning hits 30 factory workers in Guangzhou, several dead

Posted: 02/17/2012 1:17 pm

Over the past few months, more than 30 workers in Guangzhou have been sent to hospital with a similar set of symptoms: a dull look in the eyes, incontinent, shaky hands and memory loss. Four men have died from what has been diagnosed in each of these cases as dichloroethane poisoning.

What’s poisoning these workers, both men and women, all of whom work in making shoes or leather cases, is suspected to be toxins contained in industrial strength glue used in their factories. Yesterday, the Guangzhou No. 12 People’s Hospital, which specializes in treatment and prevention of occupational illnesses, began the formal process of identifying the illnesses affecting this group of patients.

Liu Yimin, deputy warden of the hospital, says that the patients all suffer from damage to the central nervous system.

New Express was able to interview Fan Xiuwen, a worker in a shoe factory in Baiyun district fortunate enough to have gone to hospital earlier for a routine body check, before chemicals from the toxic glue began eroding his mind—the same glue, he came to realize, which he was using daily to paint onto shoes.

Factory worker Tan Qiuyan, among those poisoned, being fed by her mother

Many other of those affected have not been as lucky. On the 8th floor of the No. 12 hospital, 27 factory workers are currently receiving treatment for suspected poisoning from their daily exposure to the glue. After those who succumbed to the poison, the most serious currently is a man lapsing in and out of a coma; the newspaper writes that at times when the man is conscious, his situation has deteriorated to the point where he can’t give the answer of one plus two.

Treatment for the more than 30 workers has already cost around 1 mln RMB. Media have reported that while their employers should be covering medical costs for treatment of workplace injuries such as this, 70% of the accumulated costs still remain unpaid.

A reporter with Beijing Morning Post visited the shoe factory of one of those poisoned in Guangzhou’s Liwan district, finding that the “factory” is actually an illegal workshop, no operating license or ventilation, situated in an old residential area.

The owner of the factory, Liu, told the newspaper that he has paid more than 10,000 RMB to cover his employee’s medical expenses. New Express writes that given the size of his workshop, it’s quite evident that 10,000 RMB is pretty much all he can afford.

The same reporter went to visit another leather factory with poisoned employees, finding only that the factory was previously closed down.

Police have arrested six suspects with the charges of manufacturing defective glue and the illegal storage of dangerous chemicals.


Beware the taxis outside Dongguan’s new train station

Posted: 02/7/2012 8:52 am

So apparently there’s a new train station in Dongguan—in Humen, to be precise, part of the new Guangzhou-Shenzhen high-speed rail line.

Does it make it any easier to get to downtown Dongguan? A bit, but Humen’s closer proximity to Guangzhou also makes it much more convenient to reach the factory-laden area between the two cities as well as several of Dongguan’s fanciest hotels.

However, New Express reported earlier this week that taxis waiting outside Humen Railway Station are refusing to run by the meter and have been gouging passengers by demanding fares with as much as a 100% markup.

New Express received no response from Humen Railway Station management. Perhaps someone has had a similar experience there?

The newspaper also reports that trash is piling up outside the station, a sharp contrast to its shiny glimmering interior, with no one apparently having been given the task of grounds maintenance.


A post-riot look at PRD migrant workers

Posted: 06/30/2011 1:06 am

Reuters interviewed dozens of migrants on the outskirts of Guangzhou for its report today which looks at the work, life and aftermath for young workers in Xintang town following three days of rioting in several villages there earlier this month.

What began as a not-so-uncommon backlash after a pregnant woman from Sichuan province was roughed up by authorities for selling jeans on the sidewalk quickly turned into a roving street battle between out-of-province workers and local Cantonese after the young rioters went from burning police cars to burning any cars and smashing shop windows.

Of those interviewed, Reuters reporters James Pomfret and Chris Buckley write:

This generation does not share the self-sacrificing ethos of their farmer parents. They are jacked into the World Wide Web, they text like their cohorts elsewhere in the world, and their walks through the streets of Chinese cities are a direct education in the gaps in income and privilege that irk them.
“Our mentality is different from our parents’. We don’t save money like they did,” said Li Bin, a 20-year-old worker in Dongguan, who sported a mullet haircut and an earring.
“We spend it as we make it, spend it on ourselves — restaurants, the Internet, karaoke. But in their time, people were simpler. They were saving money so they could come home.”
“I’d never go back to farming,” cut in Li’s friend, Fang Wuping. “If you threatened to kill me, I wouldn’t. If you’re a farmer, people despise you, look down on you,” he said.

Savvy in their own right, but not without some serious resentment as well. Also interviewed for the report was 20-year-old Hunanese Zheng Chao, found at a recruitment stall for the marginally employed in a rural area outside Shenzhen. “It’s normal here for people to take a beating inside the factory and outside,” Zheng said. “What we need is our own Chairman Mao. He was a migrant worker too.”

Zheng’s attitude reflects the findings of Huang Yan, a researcher at Guangzhou’s South China Normal University who studies unrest among migrants working in the Pearl River Delta. Huang likens their situation to a dormant volcano and says an eruption is just a matter of time: “I’m not saying that this is a volcano that will erupt across the entire country, but in areas where migrant workers are concentrated, there are accumulated tensions.”

Also mentioned by Reuters is a report from the All-China Federation of Trade Unions which wrote that part of the changing attitudes among younger workers who migrate to the PRD is increasingly modern thinking about their rights. The jobs are here—more than can be filled, according to some reports—and wages have risen even since 2008, and many like Fang above still find life here better than back on the farm. Factoring in central government incentives to move factories inland, though, along with rapidly increasing commodity prices and all those stories you’ve heard about Taiwanese factory bosses, probably means Huang’s volcano isn’t going to cool down any time soon.

More from Reuters on what the ACFTU wrote:

“There are signs that their mode of defending their rights is shifting from individual to collective action,” the report said, noting a survey that found over half of migrant workers born after 1980 said they would be willing to join in “collective action” to defend their personal interests.

Also see this June 28 Q&A from Reuters: Who are China’s young rural migrants and what do they want?

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