Author: 瞿昆 (Qu Kun)
Original Title: "Seeking Answers in the Death of a Foshan Child Laborer"
Originally Published by Xinhua News Guangzhou On April 25th Under the Title: "Seeking Answers in the Death of a Foshan Child Laborer"
Featuring Contributions from Xinhua News “Chinese Affairs” Reporters: Ou Dianqiu, Zhou Ying, and Hu Linguo
On April 24th, the body of the 14 year old child laborer working in Guangzhou, Wang Pan, was cremated in Foshan. How was it that a youth in the prime of their life passed away so far away from their home? The death of this “child laborer” has left his family with endless pain, and stoked the deep interest of the public. Xinhua News reporters have carried out an investigation into this matter.
Can Compensation of 150,000 Replace a Young Life?
Although April 24th was a Sunday, workers were frequently seen entering the Foshan Zhiya Underwear Company, Ltd. entrance, just as if they were going to clock in for day’s work. The portion of workers that talked about Wang Pan’s death ten days later without fail expressed their sympathy.
According to a report from the Nanhai District Human Resources and Social Protection Bureau, on March 5th of this year, the not yet 15 years old Wang Pan went to work at Zhiya through his mother, Kuang Liangqin’s connections. Upon arrival he was made to fill out a job application form and sign on to a labor contract for a position as a worker on the factory floor. At around 6 am on the morning of April 11th, Wan Pan was discovered unconscious in a room he had rented, and was declared dead on the scene by a doctor.
The Vice Group Leader of the Foshan Nanhai District Human Resources and Social Protection Bureau’s Labor Monitoring Group, Ji Xinke said that following the death of Wang Pan, the Zhiya entered into negotiations on the issue of compensation for the family of the deceased. From what this reporter saw on the “Compensation Agreement” signed on to by the two parties, the 1st group (Zhiya Underwear Company, Ltd.) will give a one-time payment and burial subsidy to the 2nd group (Wang Pan’s Family) for the death of Wang Pan, totaling 150,000 Yuan in all.
For an enterprise to provide 150,000 as compensation for the aftermath of the loss of a young life has led to doubts from a portion of Zhiya’s workers and general public. According to the standards of the “Work Injury Insurance Regulations”, a company may not employ child laborers. If a company uses child laborers and it leads to injury or death, that company must provide a one-time payment as compensation to the child laborer or their relatives. The standard for this is that it payment must not be lower than those in work injury insurance benefit regulations.
The Bureau Chief of the Foshan Nanhai District Human Resources and Social Protection Bureau Wu Wenhua says that there is a controversy over how to apply this standard in the industry. The crux of this dispute lies in whether or not these standards for compensation may be used when a child laborer has died on the job as a result of their “being used”. Presently, different places have different ways of dealing with this problem. “We have explained the circumstances of this clause to the two parties, specifically on how on my only use labor arbitration or a legal judgement to reach a final determination, or that they may reach a mutual agreement among the two parties on the issue of compensation.”
A Guangzhou City judge with a long history working on labor cases said that in this case it would be necessary to prove a direct link between death of Wang Pan and his employment at Zhiya. Only then would the “Work Injury Insurance Regulations” be used as compensation standards. In order to verify that these two things are interrelated, an autopsy must be carried out to discover Wang Pan’s cause of death.
However, an autopsy was not carried out because Wang Pan’s body was cremated. On the resident death certificate provided by the police, the cause of death was noted as: undetermined.
The Director of the Foshan City Police, Nanhai Precinct Command Center, Wu Jianhua said that a police office had ruled out suspicions of homicide on the site, thus a mandatory autopsy to confirm the cause of death was not required. If the relatives requested an autopsy, they could have put forth a request, but Wang Pan’s relatives have yet to do so.
Our reporters contacted the relatives of the deceased, but his older sister said that they did not wish to bring up this matter again. The key parties responsible at Zhiya refused our requests for an interview.
Was Excessive Overtime Present at Zhiya?
Wang Pan’s relatives have suspicions that his death was related to excessive overtime at the factory.
Many workers at Zhiya informed our reporters that usually the hours worked were from 8 am – 12 pm; then continuing from 1 pm until getting off work at 6 pm; at 6:30 pm, overtime starts, working until 9 or 10 pm. Every month workers only have two days off. “When I arrive at work at 6 am, there are already workers who have started for the day on the factory floor. When I turn off the lights at 11 pm, there are still workers putting in overtime”, according to an employee at Zhiya.
Yet there is a large gap in between what workers are saying about overtime and the conclusions in the Nanhai District Human Resources and Social Protection Bureau’s investigation. Ji Xinke says that legal regulations stipulate that each day overtime cannot exceed 3 hours, and it must not exceed 36 hours per month. The Nanhai District Human Resources and Social Protection Bureau carried out an investigation into the working situation at Zhiya. According to the attendance records, wages, and other information obtained from this investigation, there had yet to be conclusive evidence that excessive overtime takes place at Zhiya.
The attendance records of Wang Pan from March 5th to April 10th, provided by Nanhai District Human Resources and Social Protection Bureau, in spite of missing records for March 13th, March 27th, and April 4th, all have clear records of his attendance. In most of Wang Pan’s attendance records, it shows that he generally clocked out prior to 6 pm, and very few indicate that he put in overtime during the evening.
When our reporter raised doubts into the authenticity of these attendance records, Ji Xinke stated that “We dispatched a request with Zhiya to provide us with these attendance records. As to whether this information is true, it is rather difficult to check up on that. As to whether or not these records were forged or not, we will need to take additional measures to look into that.”
The Vice Bureau Chief for the Nanhai District Human Resources and Social Protection Bureau, Guan Zhuopo says that in the course of his 40 days of labor with Zhiya, Wang Pan received around 4,100 Yuan.
Many Zhiya workers stated that for an employee to reach this level of wages was very difficult to achieve without overtime, especially for new hires. According to a recent hire at Zhiya, “At my position, completing one garment will earn you 0.15 Yuan. When I first got here, I was not used to the process. I worked for 8 hours yesterday, and in total I took home 20 Yuan.”
A recruitment poster in the Zhiya dorms says that their company does not have base wages, and that compensation is based on: two times the unit price + an award based on 10% of these wages + a 30 yuan award for perfect attendance.
How Can We Prevent This Tragedy From Reoccurring?
On April 24th, it had already been over 10 days since Wang Pan passed away. His employer, Zhiya, has only been fined 10,000 Yuan, and has yet to be punished for anything else.
As to this matter, Ji Xinke says that according to the Article 6 of the “Regulations Restricting the Use of Child Labor”, published by the State Council: if a company uses child labor, then it will be ordered by the Labor and Social Security Administration to rectify this situation, as well as be fined 5,000 Yuan for every month it uses an individual child laborer. “In accordance with the law, my bureau did on April 22nd produce an “Executive Penalty Decision”, fining Zhiya 1,000 Yuan for illegally using a child laborer from the period of March 5th to April 10th.
In addition to this fine, should Zhiya receive additional penalties? According to Article 10 of “Regulations Restricting the Use of Child Labor”, when a child laborer is injured or dies on the job, their employer will have their business license revoked by the Administration for the Regulation of Industry and Commerce, or will have their registration under the private non-enterprise registration removed by the Civil Affairs Department.
The Section Chief of the Foshan Nanhai District Market Supervisory Authority Enterprise Supervisory Section, Meng Changshen says that according to regulations, a request must be submitted by the Labor Protection Department in order for the Administration for the Regulation of Industry and Commerce to revoke the business license of an enterprise illegally using child labor. Yet at the present moment, the Labor Protection Department has yet to file any requests on the use of child labor by Zhiya.
According to Wu Wenhua, there is a dispute in the industry over when it is acceptable to use the aforementioned standard. This controversy lies in whether or not it should be necessary to verify that a child laborer’s illness or injury was the result of their employment by the industry before revoking their business license. “We have already submitted an oral request with our superiors on this question, and are already on the way to dispatching a written request.”
As to whether or not this matter has the implication of being the crime of using child labor to perform dangerous work, Wu Jianhua says that the police are in the process of carrying out an investigation as to whether Zhiya has been using child labor to perform physically draining tasks. At the present moment, this investigation is still gathering evidence and has yet to arrive at the point of producing a conclusion.
According to the latest report from the Foshan City Nanhai District Human Resources and Social Protection Bureau, they have already stepped up their investigation into whether or not Zhiya illegal employed child labor as well as the issue with overtime hours there. They also say that were violations of the law to be discovered, then they will immediately deal with this issue in accordance with the law. In our interviews with several city residents, they believe that Zhiya illegally hired child laborers and that the enterprise cannot avoid the responsibility for this. However, these citizens also felt that the head of Wang Pan’s household and other guardians were to blame as well. This kind of problem is especially prevalent in rural areas, where children do not receive a good education or protection, leading to them dropping out of school early and choosing to take on labor that is far beyond what they can assume at their age, leading to disaster.