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Cadmium poisoning spurs compensation saga

By Zhan Lisheng (China Daily)

Updated: 2006-12-20 08:44

A group of women workers formerly employed by two battery factories in Huizhou, in South China's Guangdong Province, are struggling to recover compensation after contracting cadmium poisoning while working.

The women all quit their jobs after discovering that they had been poisoned by cadmium, an extremely hazardous metal used to make some kinds of batteries.

Their employers offered them compensation, but the women said the compensation was inadequate and have filed a series of lawsuits.

The women initially sued for more compensation, but they lost because the law does stipulate compensation for the possibility of future illnesses. The women next sued to get their jobs back, but the court refused to accept the case.

In the latest twist, the women filed a fresh suit after three of their colleagues died of illnesses related to cadmium poisoning. Cadmium damages the lungs and kidneys and could irritate the digestive tract. The court has not yet ruled on the latest case.

Lu Ying, a lawyer representing the women, said they should have the right to either get their jobs back or receive more compensation to cover their future medical costs.

[caption id="attachment_297" align="alignleft" width="180" caption="Fu Honhqin's working certificate"]Fu Honhqin's working certificate[/caption]

She said she was confident that they would win the case. "They quit their jobs because they were afraid their health would deteriorate due to the cadmium poisoning. The local government and their employers assured them of the future responsibilities thus incurred," she said.

The women worked for two factories Xianjin Battery Factory and GP Battery Factory both of which make batteries for GP Batteries International Ltd, a Singapore-listed company.

The women quit in 2004 after the Guangdong Provincial Occupational Diseases Prevention Hospital found that 177 workers at the factories had abnormally high levels of cadmium in their blood. Some of them had suffered from severe aches and pains, headaches and hair loss. They received compensations ranging from 3,000 yuan (US$370) to 20,000 yuan (US$2,470).

Earlier this year, 224 former workers at GP Batteries' manufacturing plant in Huizhou filed a lawsuit seeking compensation of 250,000 yuan (US$30,830) each for cadmium poisoning. They lost that suit because the law does not cover future illnesses.

Last year, 65 of the plaintiffs filed a new suit, this time asking to be hired again. The local court did not accept the case. A group of 146 women filed latest suit following the deaths of three of their former workers.

"Three of our former co-workers have died from cadmium poisoning this year, and another one has given birth to a baby with blackened skin," said Liu Hongmei, one of the plaintiffs. "We need to be rehired or given compensation."

She said her boss had initially given the workers up to 15 days to decide whether to remain on the job or quit with some compensation after evidence of cadmium poisoning emerged in 2004.

"We were all frightened to death and most of us chose to quit," she said. "The so-called compensation was inadequate and we regret quitting our jobs."

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