Opinion / Commentary

Right to refuse dangerous work
(China Daily)
Updated: 2006-06-21 06:25

Strict enforcement of the law guarantees workers the right to refuse undertaking risky assignments, says a signed article in People's Daily. An excerpt follows:

A recent report said that the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the State Administration of Work Safety and the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety would join forces in a campaign to boost the migrant workers' health and safety, part of which is to guarantee workers the right to refuse risky assignments.

According to the Labour Law, workers are entitled to refuse risky assignments.

The campaign indicates that the government is paying close attention to migrant workers' safety. At the same time, it is also a signal that safety at work has become a major problem.

According to official statistics, more than 75 per cent of people killed last year at coal mines and construction sites were migrant workers.

Some workplace accidents took place because workers did not have enough safety knowledge, but more occurred because employers ignored potential dangers and forced workers to take assignments.

Against such a background, it is necessary and timely for trade unions and workplace safety authorities to reiterate workers' right to refuse risky assignments.

But it would be difficult for workers to do this without strong support.

It is impossible to solely count on workers' own initiative. If a worker refuses a risky assignment, the most likely response will be his dismissal. Under such circumstances, most workers would rather safeguard their jobs.

By the same token, businesses should not be expected to protect workers' right of refusal. With an eye on their profits, many employers just ignore the law and the rights of their employees.

The right to refuse risky assignments and other workplace rights can only be guaranteed when the law is fully implemented.

Two important tasks need to be carried out to ensure the law is fully implemented. The first is to ensure the government and officials abide by the law, which includes tackling corruption and cutting the ties between profit-hungry bosses and their "guardians" within the government.

The second task is to improve long-term supervision of law enforcement.

(China Daily 06/21/2006 page4)