By Xu Chi | 2012-12-24 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
JIA Jingchuan, an unemployed father of two, feels humiliated when his children ask why their dad isn't going to work like other dads and why his feet and hands sweat even on the coldest winter days.
He tells them a few white lies because they are too young to understand the miseries of suffering from hexane chemical poisoning.
Jia was among 137 workers who were hospitalized between 2009 and 2011 after exposure to the toxic chemical while making iPhone touch screens for Taiwan-owned Wintek, an Apple supplier in Suzhou. The chemical, used to wipe the screens clean, can cause eye, skin and respiratory tract irritation and lead to persistent nerve damage.
Jia made headlines across China when he and 22 other workers began a campaign demanding compensation for their work-related disabilities. His name appeared in more than 1,400 Chinese media reports.
Wintek said it used hexyl hydride, also called n-hexane, from May 2008 to August 2009 but stopped the practice after discovering that it was making workers ill.
However, Wintek finally agreed to pay the poisoned workers compensation ranging from 50,000 yuan (US$7,724) to 180,000 yuan.
Jia and another worker also launched a petition drive in support of improved working conditions at Chinese factories.
Jia received 130,000 yuan in compensation and thought the ordeal was over. He was wrong.
The man once dubbed a "working class hero" has been out of work since the poisoning, staying home as "house husband." Other electronic suppliers put his name on a blacklist as a troublemaker, he said. No one will hire him.
The effects of the poisoning are permanent, he said, and he has to take medication every day.
Jia said he wants to sue Apple Inc in the United States for an open apology. Lawyers say it is a losing battle.
"According to an old Chinese saying, the gunshot hits the bird that pokes its head out," said Jia in an interview with Shanghai Daily. "I've paid a lot to learn that lesson."
Jia said he started searching for jobs after he left the hospital. He sent his resume to more than five electronic suppliers for work as an electrician, but all refused to consider him once they learned his identity, he said.
"During interviews, company officials would smirk when I mentioned my experience with Wintek," he said. "They said they had heard of me and weren't interested in my application."
The reasons they gave were vague, said Jia, who has more than four years' experience as an electrician.
"In one interview, I heard an assistant telling a senior official that I played a leading role in the Apple poisoning incident," said Jia. "I heard him call me a 'drama queen' and a troublemaker. I saw the change of face in the official who was interviewing me."
Jia was advised by friends to change his name and resume. But he needs to show his electrician's certificate to verify his qualifications, and omitting his years at Wintek from his resume left his work experience blank.
Jia headed back to his hometown in the city of Heze in Shandong Province, seeking a factory job and a new life. Again he met a brick wall.
"If a person leaves town to work elsewhere, then suddenly returns looking for a job, there's the suspicion that something is amiss," Jia said.
His only option was heavy physical labor, but that was impossible because of muscle atrophy associated with the poisoning.
Other victims of the poisoning have gotten new jobs in Suzhou, with some now earning up to 6,000 yuan per month, Jia said somewhat bitterly.
"I remember some of them," he said. "They hid behind those of us willing to speak out. ... In the end, they proved smarter than me."
The burden of supporting the family fell to Jia's 52-year-old father, who repairs roads and cleans community facilities.
Wang Zhan, a local lawyer, said it might be possible to press the case against Apple if Jia went to the US and filed suit there under American laws.