China’s work-related injury rehabilitation centres lie empty

There are well over a million work-related injuries in China every year, yet many of the government’s newly established rehabilitation centres lie empty because poorly-paid migrant workers, who are the main victims of accidents, are either unaware of their existence or simply cannot get in.

The China Daily reported today that a rehabilitation centre in the northeastern province of Liaoning had not received a single patient since it opened in December. “Without clear financial grounds, we can’t receive workers,” a centre official told the newspaper.

In order to get treatment at a work-related injury rehabilitation centre (工伤康复中心), workers need to have work-related injury insurance. However the vast majority of migrant workers do not have insurance; even official government figures put the coverage rate at just 24 percent.

And without insurance, workers will have to rely on their employer to cover the cost rehabilitation. However, if an employer is unwilling to provide insurance for their workers, they will be even more unlikely to pay for rehabilitation, particularly if the worker concerned does not have a formal employment contract.

Many workers fear that if they press the boss to pay for their rehabilitation treatment, it could jeopardize their chances of getting additional compensation. As Tang Dan, president of the Guangdong Work-related Injury Rehabilitation Centre told the China Daily, because compensation is based on the severity of the injury, many workers “are afraid they will get less if they recover too well.”

And if even if workers do have insurance, it is unlikely that they would be aware of the rehabilitation option. A survey by the renowned Zhicheng Legal Support Centre for Migrant Workers in Beijing of 73 manual workers, who suffered minor injuries that could have benefited from rehabilitation, showed that not one of them had sought help from a rehabilitation centre because none of the workers even knew of their existence.

Even the deputy director of the Ministry of Human Resources’ work-related injury department, Lu Shihai, admitted that the government was deliberately not promoting the centres’ services. “We’re only at an experimental stage and resources are very limited,” he told China Daily, “It’s a bad idea to advertise something when you can’t provide for all the injured workers in need.”

The new network of work-related injury rehabilitation centres is just another example of how out of touch with reality the government is. As CLB showed in a detailed research report last year, nearly all government legislation and directives on work-related injury compensation are based on an idealized employer-employee relationship where there is a written employment contract and work-related injury insurance coverage. Without the above, employers have the ability to avoid paying anything apart from basic medical costs for months and years on end.

At present, the rehabilitation centres will only really benefit professional or skilled workers in long-term employment. The migrant workers who need the facilities the most will remain out in the cold.
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