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Black lung patients often face a long wait for compensation

China Daily | Updated: 2013-03-25 07:13

Legal process to make claim may take up to 3 years to complete

Zhao Wenhai spends most of his time sitting in bed, even during the middle of the night, because he is afraid lying down will kill him.

Zhao, 43, was diagnosed with third-stage black lung disease, the highest severity of the illness, in 2007 after he spent six years toiling at a small gold mine in Northwest China's Gansu province between 1998 and 2003.

Black lung patients often face a long wait for compensation

A black lung patient from Tongren, Guizhou province, looks at an X-ray of his lungs. Provided to China Daily

Zhao became a taxi driver in his native Gulang county in Gansu after he left the mine in 2003. He developed a bad cough the same year.

He lost the ability to work in 2010.

Black lung, or pneumoconiosis, has a high fatality rate.

"I think I cannot hold on until next year," he said.

Zhao still has hope for a "big" compensation settlement.

Zhao's compensation from a public work injury insurance fund has been delayed for eight months.

Zhao lives on a monthly 900-yuan ($145) subsidy from the government and some 700 yuan that his wife, a disabled woman, earns each month by making crafts.

Due to the lack of other sources of income, the couple have to borrow money to pay the tuition fees of their two children.

"Sometimes I feel breathless and hopeless," he said.

Similar fate

As of the end of 2010, some 676,000 cases of pneumoconiosis had been reported and 22 percent of those patients have died, according to the health authority.

The actual number of patients could be closer to 6 million because a large number of workers in small factories are not under the health authority's occupational disease supervision, according to NGOs, labor experts and lawyers who attended a seminar in Beijing last month.

Liu Jianwei, 41, has a bad cough. Last year, he was diagnosed with first-stage black lung disease after working at a gemstone factory in Beijing for 15 years.

Liu spent the past six years fighting to protect his rights and helped 25 black lung patients who worked at the same factory, including his wife, get compensation from the employer or work injury insurance fund.

Workers diagnosed with first-stage pneumoconiosis received one-off compensation of some 160,000 yuan. Others who had more severe complications from the disease received a one-time compensation of 50,000 yuan and were eligible for a 2,000-yuan subsidy every month and full reimbursement of their medical expenses.

Liu is still waiting for a settlement from a court about his compensation.

Current laws require companies to provide work injury insurance for employees and ensure the country's work injury insurance fund covers treatment fees and compensation to those with occupational diseases - as long as the employee's company paid for the insurance.

An injured worker could receive compensation equal to 7 to 27 months of his monthly salary based on the severity of the injury or disease.

If the employer did not pay for the insurance, it should be responsible for all fees.

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