Worker Who Built Wuhan Field Hospital: We Are Isolated, Treated Like Prisoners

All around the world, essential service workers are being recognized as heroes for helping to keep economies going amid the pandemic, but not so in China.

Leishenshan, a 1,600-bed emergency field hospital in Wuhan, Chinas outbreak ground zero, was built in a record time of fewer than two weeks, thanks to tens of thousands of construction workers who risked their lives toiling on it day and night.

No sooner than the hospital completed construction, however, these workers found themselves outcasts speedily driven out of the city by force, with many unable to secure their basic salary.

Zhang Xiongjun, a scaffold worker from Guangzhou, was one such example. He wrote about his harrowing experience on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo.

After construction at Leishenshan was completed, Zhang was given no contract and 500 yuan ($70.9) of cash for each day he worked. Upon speaking to fellow construction workers, he discovered that he was only paid a fraction of what he was entitled to. After the job ended, the workers were all “escorted out like prisoners” to nearby Hunan province, Zhang said.

On April 8, Zhang and the group returned to Wuhan to demand that the construction company, China Construction Third Engineering Bureau, give them full pay.

They drove to the provincial petition office located in Wuhan and planned to lodged complaints with government authorities about their compensation. But before they were able to, around two dozen people from the China Construction Third Engineering Bureau surrounded them and ordered them to squat down on the ground.

Zhang said he wasnt sure how the company caught wind of their plans, but for the next nine hours, they intimidated Zhang and his group, denying them access to meals or water. One person fainted under the scorching sun.

The company pressured them to sign a letter promising to never mention anything about the incident or their involvement in building Leishenshan. Company staff also demanded that they erase any photos or videos from their phones that proved they worked on Leishenshan. They were ordered to leave Wuhan.

Because the group had been to Wuhan, where the outbreak is still severe, no nearby hotels were willing to accommodate them. So they slept in the car.

For days, “we were either chased, turned away, or taken to quarantine,” he wrote. “We are merely refugees now.” They could not find new construction jobs either.

After the failed attempt at seeking proper compensation, Zhang wrote, “I will never go to Wuhan again in this life.”

leishenshan worker
leishenshan worker
Zhang Xiongjun and other construction workers at the Leishenshan Hospital. (Zhang Xiongjun/Weibo)

Heroes to Homeless

Headquartered in Wuhan, the state-owned China Construction Third Engineering Bureau is one of the largest construction companies in the world and has for eight years been on the Fortunes Global 500 list.

In a March 28 interview, Chen Weiguo, the company president and vice Communist Party secretary, told state broadcaster CCTV that the firm enlisted over 31,000 people from all over the country to work on the Leishenshan project. He called the workers “heroes” and promised to hand out an honorific certificate to each individual.

But Zhang, who put on full-body protective suits during his work shifts and stood on the scaffold to install color steel tiles, said he saw none of that.

“All we have is a piece of proof of our medical observation,” he wrote. “There was no certificate, no honor, no nothing.” After the hospital was complete, workers were required to be isolated—usually at local hotels that were converted into quarantine centers—for 14 days and take diagnostic tests for the CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus. They often had to pay the associated fees themselves.

Leishenshan hospital worker
Leishenshan hospital worker
Zhang Xiongjun and other construction workers at the Leishenshan Hospital. (Zhang Xiongjun/Weibo)

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