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'Robbed of dignity' and half his brain: Zhang's Foxconn nightmare

via Sydney Morning Herald | Oct. 17, 2012
Apple's largest contract manufacturer has been pushing for a Chinese worker left brain-damaged in a factory accident to be removed from hospital in a case that throws a harsh new spotlight on labour rights in China.

"China now has laws specifying the types of compensation that are due to workers. But in many serious industrial accidents, companies still put workers or their families through a lot of suffering just to get what is due to them," said Choi Suet-wah of the Chinese Working Women Network in Hong Kong.

"They are robbed of their dignity," said Choi, who has extensive experience working with migrant workers in China.

Zhang is actually one of the lucky ones, social workers say, pointing out that Foxconn has at least been paying his hospital bills and the living expenses of his family, which has moved to Shenzhen from central China to be with him.

They estimate that at least four out of 10 Chinese workers are not covered by any kind of insurance and are left to fend for themselves when seriously injured in the workplace - despite laws requiring all employers to insure their workers.

"This is just one of many, many industrial accidents in China. And you almost certainly never get what you are entitled to, especially in serious cases," Choi said.

Welfare borders

Foxconn says it is insured against workplace accidents, which means its insurer would meet the cost of a compensation payment once Zhang's disability is finally assessed.

But compensation in China can vary depending on the city in which a worker's disability is assessed - and this, according to Zhang's family, is why Foxconn wants him to travel to Huizhou and refuses to have him assessed in Shenzhen.

Labour activists say wages and compensation levels are all substantially lower in Huizhou than in Shenzhen, one of the most expensive cities in China.

When asked why Zhang could not be assessed in Shenzhen, Foxconn said the law required him to go to Huizhou because he had signed his employment contract there. It added that it was prepared to send him back to the hospital in Shenzhen if the assessors determined that he required more medical attention.

In hospital, Zhang walks unsteadily, holding on to the bed frames of other patients in his shared room and, with a smile, sits down next to his father whose face tightens with emotion.

"He calls me 'mother' and calls my wife 'father'. He can only mimic words you ask him to say, it is meaningless," the elder Zhang said later, holding a jar containing large fragments of his son's cranium. Doctors replaced a portion of Zhang's skull with synthetic bone.

 

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