“Perils of Labour”
The video documented the story of Yi Yeting, an occupational disease patient turned worker activist. It is a story of the unequal battle waged between workers and capital, between individual and the state; yet it is also a story of personal growth and empowerment, of overcoming one’s suffering and gaining collective consciousness.
Yi was working at a container company when he was diagnosed with leukemia caused by occupational benzene poisoning in 2005. Eight years on, he is still stuck in a long legal battle with the factory for justice and fair compensation. While his case has yet to come to a satisfying resolution, his struggle has inspired his fellow workers to stand up for their right, exposing the issue of occupational poisoning as a collective problem in the outwardly exemplary state-owned company. In the process of seeking occupational disease compensation he has become an expert in the issue, eventually joining a labour NGO as an organiser, giving paralegal advice to other workers in similar situation and advocating for legislative changes relating to occupational diseases.
The video was filmed in one day in Shenzhen, at the place where Yi now works. Apart from Yi’s own narrative, interview was also taken from lawyer Guan Tieliu, who has handled a fair number of occupational disease cases. He gave the bigger background to Yi’s story, framing the struggle of occupational diseases patient in the tradeoff between economic growth and rights protection that the nation has settled for. Scenes were also taken from Yi’s daily life, his discussion with workers and from the area he frequents, to construct a fuller picture of Yi. Yi’s case is a slice of the endemic problem of occupational poisoning in China. Official figure put annual no of cases at about 2000; however the real figure is probably ten times higher due to the many difficulties in obtaining an occupational disease diagnosis. Benzene poisoning, the kind that Yi suffered, is one of the most prevalent type of occupational poisoning, found in industries from toy to electronic. Although substitutes to benzene has long been developed following discovery of its cancerous potential, companies have not used them due both to higher cost and ease of evading responsibility for occupational diseases. We hope to use Yi’s story to highlight the issue of chemical poisoning in modern factories, and to bring out the role occupational victims can play in pushing forward the frontier of workers’ rights.