MAC: Mines and Communities

CHINA: More disasters, more meetings and more crackdowns

Published by MAC on 2005-11-29

CHINA: More disasters, more meetings and more crackdowns

China Labour Bulletin News Flash No. 58

29th November 2005

The latest coal mine disaster which occurred at the Dongfeng Coal Mine in Heilongjiang Province late on 27 November 2005, has killed 140 miners so far. Nine miners are still missing and the death toll is likely to rise, officials reports said.

The coal dust explosion that killed these men occurred in a medium-sized, state-owned mine run by the Qitahe branch of Longmei Mining (Group) Co. This was not a small poorly run mine with few funds to invest in safety equipment. The first mine shaft was dug in 1956 and large-scale mining was begun in 1972. This mine produced 500,000 tonnes of coal annually, in line with its annual production quota.

During a video conference of an emergency meeting on coal mine safety held by the Heilongjiang provincial government on 28 November, the government announced that it would apply "extraordinary measures" to close down all the unsafe coal mines in the province by the end of this year.

This is a familiar announcement: After each coal mine disaster, particularly those which cause more than 100 deaths, we are told by government officials that they will close down all these unsafe coal mines.

But as coal mine accidents happen again and again, and more workers lose their lives in the pits, we have to ask how effective are these emergency meetings, "courageous and extraordinary" measures, and "strong determination" in reducing the soaring number of coal mine accidents.

According to statistics from the State Administration of Work Safety, there were 18,071 coal mine accidents which killed a total of 30,924 miners between 2000 and 2004 - an average of 1.71 deaths in each accident. The number of coal mine accidents, wherein more than 100 deaths have been recorded, has been increasing. Since the People's Republic of China was established in 1949, there have been nine coal mine disasters which resulted in more than 100 deaths each. Of those, seven occurred after 2000 and five of these seven accidents happened in a period of just 13 months between 2004 and 2005! Chinese coal miners are paying with their blood to support China's 8 percent annual economic growth. This is really too cruel and too heavy a price to pay.

The central government appears to have exhausted all available measures to reduce the number of accidents, including enacting news laws and regulations, carrying out official inspections, shutting down coal mines, and punishing corrupt officials.

We are inclined to believe reports we have heard that this centralized power is losing its grip on the country, and that central government orders cannot be effectively implemented outside the headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party at Zhongnanhai. We really can expect very little from this government under such circumstances, apart from lamenting the rising number of coal mine accidents and corruption among local government officials.

Cai Chongguo, China Labour Bulletin's trade union education director, once pointed out that as China's market economy develops at the current rapid rate and the demand for energy soars, the government will lose its ability to monitor the safety of coal production. The series of government measures aimed at closing unsafe mines, announced after each major disaster, would only seriously affect the energy market, push up coal prices and lead to the vicious cycle of more and larger illegal coal mining and over-production.

China Labour Bulletin still believes that occupational health and safety in China can only achieve a fundamental improvement by reforming the current system of work safety supervision. That is, workers should be allowed to organize themselves and take part in coal mine safety supervision.

At this time, we would like to express our condolences to those families who have lost loved ones in the Dongfeng Coal Mine disaster.

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