Government and Policy

Heat allowances sought for workers

By Wang Qian, He Dan and Ma Lie (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-07-07 07:13
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Heat allowances sought for workers
A watermelon vendor bites into one of his fruits to beat the heat at a vegetable market in Bozhou, Anhui province, on Tuesday, when the temperature soared to above 35 C. [China Daily]

BEIJING/XI'AN - As a heat wave bakes most of the country, labor experts are calling for diversified allowances to guarantee outdoor workers' health.

Heat allowances are not compulsory nationwide and are especially unlikely to be provided for migrant construction workers, Capital University of Economics and Business labor economics department professor Lu Xuejing said.

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"The government should issue regulations protecting outdoor workers' health, especially because extreme weather is becoming more common," she said.

Employers could also reschedule shifts for cooler times of day, shorten working hours and provide heatstroke-prevention medications as forms of heat allowances, she added.

Her call for a relevant law to be passed as soon as possible was echoed on Tuesday by Wang Yazhi, director of the labor protection department of the Hebei Provincial Federation of Trade Unions.

The only regulation protecting workers laboring in extreme heat was passed in 1960. In 2007, four ministries issued a notice saying employers should pay allowances to those whose work environment exceeds 35 C.

However, few places have adopted these guidelines as regulations.

The Beijing Municipal Human Resources and Social Security Bureau has raised the city's monthly heat allowance from 60 yuan ($8.8) to 120 yuan starting in July.

The policy covers construction workers, drivers of buses without air conditioning and cleaners, but many outdoor workers said they have not heard of the allowance.

Employers must pay medical bills for outdoor workers who suffer heat strokes on the job, according to the List of Occupational Diseases released by the Ministry of Health in 2002.

Beijing taxi driver Jiang Xiaohui frequently wiped his forehead while working on Tuesday, when the capital's highest temperature reached 42.9 C and the road surface 68 C, both records for the past 59 years.

"The car's like a sauna, but I'm much luckier than the bus drivers," the 46-year-old said.

The extreme heat caused a Beijing bus to catch fire on Tuesday morning. Nobody was injured when the bus burned into a charred husk in less than two minutes.

Extreme heat has also scorched Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Fujian, Jiangxi, Hunan, Guangdong, Guangxi and Guizhou.

Li Quanzhong was glistening with sweat as he cut steel bars at a construction site in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province.

"If we can't finish the project on time, the boss will cut our pay," Li said. The only "heat allowance" the crew has received is green bean soup at lunch and dinner, he added.

The National Meteorological Center (NMC) predicted the heat wave would continue for 10 days.

The NMC raised its heat alert from yellow to orange on Tuesday. The orange alert is the second highest of the four levels after red. It indicates that forecasts call for temperatures consistently higher than 37 C and sometimes higher than 40 C in some locations for at least the next 48 hours.

Hospitals across the country are crowded with patients of heat-related or air conditioning-related health problems.

Wei Tian contributed to this story.