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By KRIS HUNDLEY
Published September 18, 2005
[Times photos: Bob Croslin]
SHENZHEN, CHINA -- It was past 10 p.m. when the group of young workers returned from their rounds of local hospitals, where they had given advice and comfort to migrants recently injured in industrial accidents.
They spoke from experience: Each bears the scars of working in Shenzhen. They have lost fingers and hands, shattered bones and burned skin making the shoes, jewelry, toys and electronics that gush from China into markets worldwide in an ever-rising flood.
Hundreds of thousands of workers, mostly migrants who have left rural homesteads for factory work in cities, are injured or killed every year in the businesses that have made China the manufacturing floor of the world. The injury rate is so egregious even the government has taken notice.
The head of China's industrial safety agency recently estimated that about 1-million families are affected by workplace accidents each year. The direct economic loss from industrial accidents in 2004, he said, was about $30-billion or 2 percent of the national GDP.
The state-owned China Youth Daily has reported that accidents in the Pearl River Delta region surrounding Shenzhen claim more than 30,000 fingers each year. Standard payout is $60 per finger, but many employees receive nothing.
The injured migrants gathered in Shenzhen find it odd that Americans complain about the loss of jobs to China.
"Then why do Americans come here to open factories?" asked 19-year-old Zhu Chongchong, with barely concealed fury.
Liao Liting, a young woman in green t-shirt and glasses, had the answer immediately. "They do it to cut costs," she said.Den Shuping
Nearly two years ago, Den Shuping was told to fill in for someone on the assembly line at the electronics factory where he worked. Den, now 23, said no one trained him. The new job was straightforward: Put a circuit board into a set of clips, then insert the board into a machine.
But to save time, workers never used the clips, Den said. They simply slid the board in with their fingers. Den's ring finger and little finger got caught in the machine; scarred craters now mark their place.
Den says the factory, a large state-owned business, paid him about $7,000 for his fingers, an amount that seems sizeable until it's gone. Now Den's wife, a factory worker, supports the couple and Den spends his evenings consoling injured workers.
"I saw somebody make a lot of money in Shenzhen, so I followed them here," said Den, who is from rural Guangdong Province. "It is very poor at home."Lixiang Jun
A former soldier, Lixiang Jun came to Shenzhen three years ago from Hubei Province, more than 700 miles to the north.
"But my education was not so good," said Lixiang, 27. "The only job I could find was exploding things."
Working for a small rock mining and excavation company in the heart of Shenzhen, he made about $180 a month working 12-hour days. In October 2003, Lixiang was setting an explosion when a roof collapsed, crushing his left arm.
"It was a management mess-up," he said, still angry. "There should have been someone doing security, to warn us. But no one was there."
His employer paid for medical expenses and continues to provide two meals a day. But the company still hasn't compensated him for his injury, which has left him unemployable. They say he has to wait for at least two years to see how well it heals.
So Lixiang lives on support from relatives. Though his wife came to Shenzhen for a short time, she has since returned to Hubei, where she cares for their four-year-old daughter.
"I had heard from others that there was a gold mine here," Lixiang said. "But I have learned that it is hard to make money."Yang Jiao
A slender steel pin protrudes from the tip of Yang Jiao's left thumb and his pointer finger is crooked and discolored. The 20-year-old had been working for about six months at a privately owned electronics factory in Shenzhen when he moved to a new line. Within days, his two fingers were mangled by the machines.
Unmarried, Yang came to Shenzhen from rural Guangdong province to visit relatives. Then he found the factory job, making about $80 a month.
Since Yang's injury in March, his employer has continued to give him food and housing, as well as cover the cost of medical treatment. But the company has postponed giving him a final settlement for his injury.
So Yang waits, hoping he'll get paid for his injuries, which have made finding work impossible.
"Then I'm thinking of going back home," he said.Liang Chunxiang
Liang Chunxiang, a quiet 19-year-old from rural Jiangxi Province, is about to get a windfall.
About a year ago she was cleaning equipment at an electronics factory in Shenzhen, earning less than $100 a month. Then an industrial cleaner spilled and burned her legs, making it painful to stand and impossible to work.
Her employer agreed to pay nearly $1,200 for her injuries, but the payoff has been a long time coming. Though a small portion has been paid, Liang expects the rest any day now.
What will she do with the equivalent of a year's worth of wages?
Liang shrugged, unable to grasp the thought.
"I'd like to stay here in Shenzhen and learn something," she said at last. "Maybe start my own business. Maybe get into real estate. I have no idea."
-- Kris Hundley can be reached at email@example.com or 727 892-2996.
[Last modified September 19, 2005, 09:55:11]
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