Labour rights activists have written a joint open letter calling for workers to be given the authority to supervise workplace safety measures themselves. This call comes following the Kunshan factory explosion incident, which resulted in 71 dead and 186 injured.
The letter lists a string of workers’ rights violations in the Kunshan factory including serious loopholes in safety production rules, irregular and infrequent cleaning of air ventilators and dust collection systems, the absence of anti-static and anti-explosion systems and dust concentration monitoring devices, and the distribution of masks and gloves to workers only once a week. These violations resulted in workers being exposed to dusty conditions above the healthy level for extended periods of time, causing many contracting pneumoconiosis. Further, workers also worked 14-15 hours daily with only 1-2 days’ break each month, a gross violation of labour laws on working time.
Despite the above, inspections conducted from July 16 to 25 in the wake of the explosion reported that the factory was in full compliance with safety and cleanliness regulations. According to one of the letter’s authors, Dai Chun, the incident is not only reflective of the inadequate safety measures of one factory but also of the systemic neglect of the rights of low-cost labour.
In the letter, the authors, having observed that the government’s resources are insufficient to monitor regulatory compliance satisfactorily, also called for monitoring roles to be handed to labour rights NGOs, community organisations and workers, who, having a stake in ensuring their own safety, could and should be more actively involved via unions.