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No contract renewals for ill workers

Updated: 2011-02-28 08:03

By Qian Yanfeng (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Victims who suffered chemical poisoning at one of Apple Inc's supplier factories in Suzhou, East China's Jiangsu province, are under fresh pressure to leave the company as it refuses to renew their work contracts.

The workers told China Daily on Sunday they are worried that after leaving the company they will be left to fend for themselves if their health deteriorates.

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"My labor contract expired on Feb 25, and the company refused to extend it without giving a reason," said Wang Yulian, one of the injured workers who continued working at the factory after the scandal broke in the hope that the company would cover their medical bills if any future health problems ensue.

Some 100 victims have already left the Suzhou subsidiary of Taiwan-based Wintek Corp, manufacturer of iPhone components for Apple, after receiving compensation of 80,000 to 140,000 yuan ($12,168-21,294).

They also signed exemption agreements, freeing the factory of any responsibility if their health worsened in the future.

"A month ago I told the company I would leave, but later I changed my decision for fear of the future health problems it may have caused, which I couldn't possibly afford to treat on my own. But the company has just ignored my requests," Wang said.

"I don't want to leave. What if my health worsens? The compensation would be a drop in the ocean for medical treatment fees."

Yang Yanqiong, another victim whose labor contract expires on April 1, had the same concern.

"I was told that the company will not renew my contract with me. But I still suffer from tingling in my hands and legs," she said.

Zhou Xueyu, a Shanghai-based lawyer who specializes in labor contracts, said it is not against the law for a company to end labor contracts with injured workers as long as compensation is paid.

"But that does not mean the company will not be held responsible if the workers' health worsens in the future," he said.

"As long as workers can prove their future illness is directly linked to past injuries, they can still ask the company to pay for treatment."

A total of 137 workers at the Suzhou facility of Wintek suffered health problems following exposure to n-hexane, a chemical cleaning agent used in some manufacturing processes.

The chemical, which evaporates faster than alcohol, was used at the factory for about one year until July 2009 to speed up the production of touch screens for Apple products. The company has since reverted to using alcohol.

Meanwhile, negotiations between the Suzhou factory and the workers who were exposed to the chemical took place on Saturday and the company agreed to have doctors from Beijing recheck their health, as requested by the victims, according to Jia Jingchuan, one of the worker representatives.

The workers had earlier expressed mistrust of the local hospitals, which they feared might produce health reports in favor of the factory.

Jia also expressed concern that even if the company is willing to pay for future medical bills, there should be a mechanism in place to ensure the payment would last.

"This may mean lifelong treatment for us. Who should we turn to if the company moves away?"

Zhou suggested that in such incidents, the local government should work with the company to set up a relief fund so that treatment for injured workers is guaranteed.


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