Even on days when the smog is so thick you can no longer see the city skyline, Dong Ming still has to weave his way through Shanghai to deliver food ordered online.
On a typical day, the 46-year-old man makes about 20 deliveries on his blue e-bike. But when people don’t want to venture outside because of heavy snow, rain, or smog, that figure can double.
“I also don’t want to go out on smoggy days,” Dong told Sixth Tone. He knows about the risks of air pollution — especially PM 2.5, the tiny particles that are particularly harmful because they can enter the bloodstream — but all he can do is wear a mask. “I don’t have a choice,” he said. “It’s my job.”
In China, there are more than 1 million food-delivery workers like Dong, who brave the outdoor conditions even when air pollution reaches dangerous levels. And there are employees in other occupations who are put at risk, too, including traffic police, sanitation workers, and construction workers.
Earlier this month, 9 members of Henan’s political advisory body to the provincial government called for smog subsidies for outdoor workers.
“They sacrifice their own health to serve the public. All of society should offer these groups more concern, care, and necessary labor protections,” Dai Jiling, one of the members who proposed the subsidy, told Party-affiliated newspaper China Youth Daily.
In fact, the recent proposal is not the first call for smog subsidies in the nation. In 2013, a member of the People’s Congress in central China’s Hunan province made a similar suggestion, apparently to no avail.
A commentary in Party newspaper Guangming Daily published Tuesday argued that those responsible for air pollution should be charged fees that the government can use to compensate outdoor workers.
In an online survey conducted last year by Party-affiliated newspaper Workers’ Daily and the Federation of Trade Unions of Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan, 95 percent of respondents supported such an allowance.
Some multinational companies operating in China already have pollution allowances in place for their expatriate employees. Beverage maker Coca-Cola started giving foreign employees in China a 15-percent bonus in 2014, and electronics brand Panasonic provides a hardship compensation to expat staff for China’s poor air quality.
If the Chinese government decides to implement smog subsidies, it can expect to provide these allowances for years to come. According to a report by two environmental groups released earlier this month, levels of air pollution in Beijing are improving but will still take until 2027 to meet national standards.
(Header image: Face masks have been put on statues of children at play on a polluted day in Puyang, Henan province, Jan. 4, 2016. VCG)