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Panasonic China staff get pay for pollution

AFP-JIJI

Electronics giant Panasonic said Thursday it will give employees sent to China a wage premium to compensate for the country’s hazardous air pollution, in a possible first for an international company.

The move was part of a wider deal reached in the annual labor talks that saw major firms, including Panasonic and Toyota, agree to boost salaries for the first time in years amid concerns about an economic slowdown after the April 1 consumption tax hike.

A Panasonic spokesman confirmed the pollution-linked pay premium for expatriate workers but declined to give further details or say how many such workers it has in China.

Hardship pay is not unusual for employees of foreign firms sent to work in China, but Panasonic is believed to be the first to announce a premium to compensate for air pollution.

A Panasonic document from the labor talks said, “As for the premium for expatriates to compensate for a different living environment, the company will conduct a special review for those sent to Chinese cities.”

Over the weekend, a top Chinese environment official said air quality was below national standards in almost every major city last year, after Premier Li Keqiang pledged to “declare war” on pollution.

Only three out of the 74 cities monitored by the government met a new air quality standard, said Wu Xiaoqing, a vice minister of environment protection, underscoring a problem that has set off alarm bells over health concerns over the past few years.

The Panasonic document references PM2.5, a term for small particulate matter measuring 2.5 micrometers or less that can easily penetrate the lungs and have been linked to hundreds of thousands of deaths.

China’s air standard places limits on a string of pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and airborne particles.

Levels of PM2.5 have repeatedly exceeded 400 micrograms per cubic meter, according to counts by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, more than 16 times the World Health Organization’s safety guideline of 25 micrograms.

Chinese cities are regularly cloaked in a smoggy haze, with many residents donning masks to filter the toxic air.

People have been increasingly angered that the country’s rapid industrialization is causing environmental damage, including smog, land contamination by heavy metals and waterways polluted with chemicals.

China’s heavy and chemical industries, its reliance on coal as its main energy source, rapidly increasing car emissions and widespread urban construction have all been blamed for exacerbating the problem.

Chinese authorities have repeatedly pledged action in recent months, but experts warn that implementation will be key.

The government plans to shut down 50,000 small coal-fired furnaces this year, clean up major coal-burning power plants and remove 6 million high-emission vehicles from the roads, Li said recently.