MAC: Mines and Communities

China: workers labour for solar energy, while their health suffers

Published by MAC on 2019-04-09
Source: China Labour Bulletin (2019-04-09)

China's Labour Bulletin (published in Hong Kong) claims that, not only are those workers constructing solar power plants penalised by failures of the government to pay back wages .

They are also exposed to "extremely hazardous" conditions impacting on their health and safety.

"A wide range of potentially toxic chemicals are used during the production and cleaning of silicon panels. There are also health risks associated with panel installation work, including exposure to asbestos in old buildings"

For China’s workers, the boom in clean energy comes at a cost

China Labour Bulletin

April 2019

China’s photovoltaic (PV) industry has undergone a huge transformation in
the past few years as demand for cleaner, more sustainable energy has
soared. In 2011, nearly all solar panels produced in China were exported
overseas. But now, in the wake of trade friction with Europe and the
United States, the focus is very much on domestic solar panel
installation. China’s PV production and domestic installation was
initially boosted by generous government subsidies, and by the end of
2017, the country topped the world, with 130 gigawatts of solar panel
capacity installed.

The growth of domestic PV installation, however, has been accompanied by
rising labour conflict, largely related to China’s poorly regulated
construction industry where wage arrears are commonplace. Just last month,
CLB’s Strike Map recorded two examples of construction workers protesting
unpaid wages, after they finished building solar panel facilities in Hunan
and Shaanxi. Scroll down for details.

These problems in the PV industry are nothing new. After the government
announced last year that it would phase out subsidies for the industry, we
recorded several protests by workers at solar panel factories over unpaid
social insurance and wage arrears etc. indicating that the profitability
of these firms was actually quite low and that, without subsidies, they
could only survive by cheating the workforce out of their basic
entitlements.

Moreover, although the industry is branded as being environmentally
friendly, the production process can be extremely hazardous to workers’
health and safety. A wide range of potentially toxic chemicals are used
during the production and cleaning of silicon panels. There are also
health risks associated with panel installation work, including exposure
to asbestos in old buildings.

Thus far however, the Chinese government and the trade unions seem to have
paid little attention to the growing list of threats to workers in the PV
industry.

Construction workers protest wage arrears owed at solar panel site
Dozens of workers staged a protest at the Huawei Solar Hi-Tech Company in
Yongzhou, Hunan, on 18 March, demanding payment of wage arrears. The
company, specializing in the manufacture and installation of solar panels,
reportedly owed about one million yuan in construction project fees.

The main responsibility of the protesting workers had been to build the
fences and drainage system for the solar panel facility. They completed
the project but never received payment. Even after staging a sit-in
protest and holding banners demanding payment, the workers did not receive
any concrete response from the company management, and so they decided to
file a case with the local labour bureau instead.

Solar power station construction workers struggle to get paid

A group of workers employed on a solar power station construction project
in Weinan, Shaanxi, staged a protest outside a local government building
on 28 March to demand payment of wages in arrears. The energy company,
Tianzuo reportedly owed 20 workers close to 100,000 yuan after they had
finished the groundwork for construction of the solar power station in
October 2018.

Workers complained that although they had sought help from the local
labour inspectorate, officials refused to take the case because the
workers could not produce payroll documents that recorded their actual
wages. Since most of the workers were hired on a temporary casual basis,
no records existed.

Following the protests, however, negotiations began and the company
reportedly agreed to pay the workers what they were owed once they resumed
work.






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