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Migrant Workers to Get Basic Job Healthcare

The Chinese government is launching a program to provide basic occupational health services for migrant workers this year.

The pilot scheme in 20 counties over 10 provinces comes as the Ministry of Health prepares to conduct a survey on the occupational health of migrant workers, said a ministry official here Monday.

The ministry has listed the study as a priority, said Su Zhi, deputy head of the Division of Supervision under the ministry.

The basic occupational health services would be paid for by employers under existing employment laws, but the ministry has asked the State Council to establish a fund to help cover the costs of migrant workers' healthcare in cases of occupational illness and injury.

The number of migrant workers is estimated at 120 million and the workforce in rural enterprises amounts to 80 million, according to a report released by the State Council.

Most migrant workers in cities and workers in rural enterprises were employed in arduous and harmful jobs, but had no medical insurance and little awareness of safety issues, making them a high-risk group of occupational diseases, said Li Dehong, an expert with the China Center for Disease Control.

Moreover, 90 percent of enterprises were small or medium-sized and had little awareness of occupational hazards and provided few safety measures for their staff, said Health Vice-Minister Chen Xiaohong.

The ministry would set up a pilot network to improve reporting and monitoring of occupational diseases as the existing reporting system was incomplete, said Su Zhi.

Health files should be set up at migrant workers' hometowns, to which they usually returned during the traditional new year period, he said.

Last year, the ministry received 12,212 reports of occupational diseases, 75.11 percent of which were pneumoconiosis, a chronic disease of the lungs resulting from long-term inhalation of dust and primarily affecting miners, sandblasters and metal grinders.

In addition, more than 200 cases of acute occupational poisoning occurred every year, affecting hundreds of people and causing millions of yuan in economic losses, said Chen Xiaohong.

The Ministry of Health and the State Administration of Work Safety would jointly improve monitoring of occupational disease control and educate employers on the law and social responsibility, he said.

The two departments and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions jointly awarded 56 enterprises with the accolade of "State model enterprise on occupational health" on Monday. They were judged on strict standards based on existing guidelines and regulations, funding, working conditions and equipment, and provision of health insurance for their workers.

The enterprises are expected to share and publicize their experience with other enterprises in promoting occupational health.

(Xinhua News Agency April 25, 2006)

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