MAC: Mines and Communities

China's Mining Tragedies

Published by MAC on 2005-09-05

China set to dynamite 7,000 unsafe coalmines

South East Asian Occupational Health and Safety News

September 5 2005

BEIJING: China is trying to close about ,7000 of its smaller and more dangerous coalmines and sever collusive ties between mine owners and local officials, after 123 miners were killed in Guangdong province last month.

Authorities have started dynamiting underground shafts and tunnels in the mines they have ordered to close, aware that many small mines reopened after previous crackdowns. China has about 6,000 mining deaths a year, mostly in small operations run by local governments and businessmen. Up to the middle of last month, mine accidents had killed 3,400 people this year.

The State Administration of Coal Mine Safety said last week 1,324 unsafe mines had been ordered to close, and the list would reach about 7,000 out of the 24,000 coalmines in the country. Officials said this would not have a great impact on China’s coal output, about 2.1 billion tonnes a year, because the mines were small. But the directive could throw hundreds of thousands of miners out of work because the small mines are usually highly labour intensive. Last week the government ordered officials at all levels to pull out of any investment in coalmines by September 22 or face dismissal.

Recovery efforts end for 123 trapped pitmen

MEIZHOU: Guangdong authorities last week officially abandoned efforts to find the bodies of miners trapped in the flooded Daxing Colliery. Zeng Haiying, spokesman for the Meizhou government, said all 123 miners were now considered dead.

The recovery operation was stopped due to fears of further accidents after the discovery of serious subsidence in the mine, believed to have been caused by 23 days’ pumping of floodwater from the shafts, a rescue centre spokesman said. Rescue officials have recovered six bodies.

Zeng Haiying, a spokesperson for the Meizhou government, said the process of compensating the relatives of the miners began last week. Although he declined to reveal how much each family would receive, it is understood that payouts of 200,000 yuan have been agreed.

Safety review of high-risk sectors in Guangdong

GUANGZHOU: Guangdong authorities have ordered an urgent five-day review of safety work in high-risk industries, especially coal mines, in 21 cities across the province. The Guangdong Industry and Commerce Bureau ordered 10 working groups to examine safety at factories and mines.

They will also review local inspectors’ safety reports to ensure accuracy. The groups will also check public venues such as internet cafes and nightclubs, and even examine the conditions at food and chemical factories.

The urgent review came after the disastrous flooding of the Daxing Colliery in Meizhou last month.

New coal disaster prompts knee-jerk state reactions without addressing basic problems, says CLB

The key to eliminating the appalling accident and fatality rates at Chinese coal mines is to enforce the law, and empower workers in monitoring their own conditions says China Labour Bulletin - not to add new regulations. After another major tragedy, unlicensed mineowners are incensed at what they claim is brutal government action aimed at closing down their pits.

Will a ban on official investment in coal mining boost safety in China's mines?

China Labour Bulletin

August 25 2004

Hong Kong - The State Council has recently issued a heavy-handed ultimatum to all levels of government, requiring officials to withdraw their investment in coal mining operations within a month or face heavy penalties.

According to reports from China News Service, the central governmental issued a notice on 22 August, stating that all government officials must withdraw their investment in coal mines by 22 September. But the order does not cover shares in publicly listed coal mining companies.

A report from the China News Service on 25 August pointed out that the issue of "the union of officials and coal mining companies" was highlighted in the State Council's notice.

"There are problems with coal mine safety in our country, especially small coal mines. It was originally intended that the government act as a monitor of coal mine safety, but when government officials get involved directly in the business, then the government can only act as the safety hat of the coal mines," the report said.

The notice was issued in the wake of the recent coal mine disaster in Xingning City, Meizhou, Guangdong Province, in which 123 miners were trapped in a mine flood at Daxing Colliery.

Following this deadly accident on August 7, the central government also launched a high-level investigation into corruption, uncovered among local government officials.

Resolving all the issues surrounding coal mining in China will not be easy. On August 16, the Guangdong provincial government ordered a reorganization of coal mine operations and launched a policy of blowing up unlicensed mines in the province. In response, more than 150 mine owners in Guangdong stage protests and demanded compensation for the destruction of their mines.

A report in the South China Morning Post cited information from the China News Service that Shanxi Province, China's top coal producer, has raised the penalty for the owners of the miners that experience deadly accidents. Mine owners will be fined 1 million Yuan for every death and are required to pay 200,000 Yuan in compensation to each victim's family.

The report said mines in Shanxi have had the highest death toll in China this year, with 316 deaths as at the end of July. Authorities in Shanxi have shut down 1,929 unlicensed mines since a mine explosion in Ningwu County on 2 July killed 36 miners.

Will lives be saved with these orders?

China Labour Bulletin believes that the State Council’s order can only help publicize a public showdown against officials who have invested in coal mining operations, but it will do very little to help ensure safety in the mining industry in China.

Although the government's new policy can stop government officials from investing in coal mines in their own names, it is highly likely that many will circumvent the orders by using the names of others to hide their involvement.

And there is still the issue of bribes from mine owners for operating licences and other kickbacks. For example, in the case of Daxing coalmine disaster, Zeng Yungao, the mine owner, reportedly has strong connections with local government officials, according to a Xinhua report. "Since he bought the Daxing Mine, which was privatized in 1999, Zeng has quickly become known not only for his wealth but his extensive government connections," the report said.

Another report of the official news agency said that Zeng fled after the mine flooded and then tried to spend some 300 million Yuan (US$36.9 million) on a cover-up attempt. However, his plot failed after the Central Discipline Inspection Commission was involved in the investigation.

According to the local government, the Daxing coalmine was founded in 1990 with a designed annual production capacity of 30,000 tons of coal. But the central government's investigation taskforce found that the mine had already produced about 60,000 tons of coal on in the first half of this year. But each miner's monthly salary was just about 1,500 Yuan and some miners did not receive their salary for several months.

So, the real issue that the Chinese government needs to address is that coal mine accidents can only be avoided and mine safety can only be ensured by allowing workers to take part in monitoring their work safety. (See our previous articles and analysis on coalmine safety).

Enforce existing regulations and policies on coal mine safety

Meanwhile, in a report to the 17th meeting of the Standing Committee of the 10th National People's Congress (NPC), senior legislator Li Tieying said China's Law on Work Safety should be steadfastly enforced and coal mine accidents should be drastically reduced, according to a report of the China Daily. "(We) propose the State Council and relevant departments ensure a drastic reduction in the number of gas explosion accidents in coal mines within two years... and resolve the problem of smaller mines within about three years," he said on 25 August.

The NPC senior member's comments are similar to those of other state leaders, such as Premier Wen Jiabao, who visited the Chenjiashan Coal mine in Tungchuan City, Shaanxi Province, about a month after a gas explosion at that mine on 28 November 2004 killed 166 miners. Yet, large-scale coal mine disasters keep happening and local government officials seem to be grabbing every opportunity to gain advantage from the mines.

Despite the enactment of more new laws and regulations on mine safety, major coalmine disasters occur one after another: more than 6,000 miners were killed in 2004 and 951 miners died in 33 major coal mine accidents in the first eight months of this year and some 2,700 miners died in the first half of this year, according to figures from the State Administration of Work Safety.

Rather than drafting another pile of new laws and regulations, China Labour Bulletin urges the authorities to strenuously enforce the existing ones.

Sources: South China Morning Post (24 August 2005), China News Service (24 August, 25 August 2005), China Daily (26 August 2005), Xinhua News Agency (9 August, 18 August, 19 August 2005, 29 August 2005).

China's Mining Tragedies

By HAN DONGFANG, Director of China Labour Bulletin

Published in the Asian Wall Street Journal on 10 August 2005

The more than 100 workers apparently drowned in a mine in the southern province of Guangdong are the latest victims of the sadly all too common accidents that have claimed the lives of at least 6,000 miners in China over the past 12 months.

The Xingning mine was operating without a licence and in defiance of an order to shut down for inspection when the floodwater poured in on Sunday — trapping at least 102 miners underground — according to a report by Xinhua, China's state-run news agency, yesterday.

Terrible though this tragedy is, it is far from unique. Less than a month ago, an explosion rocked the Shenlong coal mine in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang, killing more than 80 miners. In addition to the high loss of life, several other factors about the July 11 disaster at Shenlong were particularly egregious. The mine’s safe production capacity had been exceeded by six times, a recipe for disaster akin to filling a ship to six times its carrying capacity. It lacked a ventilation shaft, another factor leading to the explosion. Most damning of all, the alarm monitoring gas buildup had sounded a full three hours before the explosion occurred. Those in charge of the mine failed to inform the miners of this fact, and instead they were sent in to continue turning a profit for the owners. They were sent to their deaths.

On any given day, similar neglect and disregard of basic work-safety laws could be observed at a thousand other mining operations around China, and the root causes of the unending series of industrial disasters that ensue are official greed, corruption and lack of concern for human life. I spent most of the day following the Shenlong mining accident on the phone to various people in Xinjiang.

Though independent trade unions are forbidden in China, all coal miners are theoretically protected by the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, or ACFTU, the sole legally-permitted union. So I made a call to the local ACFTU official. He assured me that there had been union representatives working at the mine in question. Shenlong's management gave me a different story, assuring me that there had never been a union presence at their mine. Most telling was the comment of one of the miners who had been fortunate enough to be off duty on the day of the accident. "What's a union?" he asked.

The problem in China’s mining industry is not a lack of work-safety laws and regulations but a near ubiquitous lack of serious enforcement.

Terms like "legal" and "illegal" when applied to a mining operation usually mean little more than whether or not the mine's owner has paid off the right authorities. In a clear case of letting the fox guard the henhouse, it was revealed that the owner of a mine in Heilongjiang that had collapsed due to egregious over-mining and the local safety inspector who had just given the operation a safety certificate were the same person.

China's leaders are well aware that these disasters threaten both social stability and the nation's energy supply. Yet instead of tackling the problem at its root and allowing coal miners themselves to monitor safety conditions underground, the government seems content merely to issue an ever-growing pile of "urgent directives" which are then dutifully filed away by mine owners and local officials around the country. Dire though the situation is, three steps can be taken immediately that would drastically reduce the needless loss of workers' lives in China's mining industry today.

First, the country's several million coal miners should be allowed and officially encouraged to form their own ad-hoc health and safety committees, with members directly elected by the workforce (as opposed to by management) and playing a 24/7 role in monitoring safety hazards at the coalface. Critical to this frontline monitoring of safety conditions in the mines is that these worker-staffed bodies should have the right to order a work stoppage whenever they — not management — deem that conditions underground have become hazardous. Until China's coal miners are granted the power and authority to monitor the mines in which they work, preventable disasters and appalling loss of life will continue to happen with numbing regularity.

Second, the amounts paid in compensation to bereaved miners' families must be greatly increased. At present, the "going rate" in compensation for a miner killed at work can be as low as around $1,000 in some provinces, and the absolute maximum elsewhere is currently $25,000. (The wide geographical variation says much about the country's haphazard and unjust compensation system for industrial fatalities.) But coal miners are not mere production tools, whose value can be calculated mathematically. They are fathers, brothers and sons, and their deaths leave entire families devastated.

In a court case that China Labour Bulletin, the labor-rights group I founded 10 years ago, is currently seeking to bring in Shanxi Province, the bereaved miners' families will be asking for up to one million yuan in compensation each. A judge handing down a punitive compensation award like this would probably do more to bring about safety improvements in coal mines around China than all the central government's recent "urgent directives" combined.

Third, mine owners and managers who willfully ignore national laws on mine health and safety in the cold pursuit of profit must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Only when mine owners in China are made to realize that miners' lives are no longer cheap and easily disposable assets, and when they themselves face prosecution and jail if they place workers' lives at risk, will they begin taking China's work-safety laws and regulations seriously. The least that the country's coal miners—together with millions of workers in other industries facing similarly acute workplace dangers—are entitled to expect is that the government's maxim of "to get rich is glorious" be tempered by civic responsibility, respect for life, and basic rule of law.

150 mine owners in Guangdong demand Compensation for Destruction of Their Unlicensed Mines after Deadly Coalmine Accident

One hundred and fifty mine owners in Guangdong Province threatened bloody confrontations with the local government if the authorities failed to pay compensation for blowing up their unlicensed mines following a deadly coalmine flood in which killed 123 miners in early August.

“There’ll be blood shed if the government continues to turn a blind eye to our feelings,” said He Tao, representative of more than 150 pit owners from 32 private mines in Lianzhou city. He Tao, who is also a mine owner, said the owners in Lianzhou were never notified that their mines would be blown up, according to a report of the South China Morning Post. “They bombed our mines without any warning and millions of Yuan worth of underground equipment was destroyed,” the mine owner said. In the aftermath of the tragic flood at the Daxing Coalmine in Xingning, Meizhou, on 7 August, the Guangdong provincial government order lower level governments to reorganize and start blowing up about 100 unlicensed mines in Meizhou, Shaoguan and Qingyuan counties on 16 August.

But violent battles broke out between government officials and the mine owners, according to a report in the Hong Kong daily newspaper, Wen Wei Po on 21 August.

The local governments’ action resulted in several thousand people petitioning the city government in Shaoguan in Guangdong. Thirteen people were arrested in Qingyuan, also in Guangdong.

According to another report from the Hong Kong newspaper on 22 August, the owners of another 20 mines in Meizhou took a peaceful approach, hiring lawyers to sue the local governments.

The newspaper reported that many mine owners still possessed explosives, despite government moves to seize their reserves.

Sources: South China Morning Post (23 August 2005), Wen Wei Po (21 August 2005, 22 August 2005)

Despite environmentalist opposition, Sri Lanka's goverment has commissioned a Chinese-built coal fired power station.

Sri Lanka Says China to Build Major Coal Power Plant

Planet Ark, Reuters News Service

August 31, 2005

COLOMBO - China's National Machinery Equipment Import and Export Corporation has signed a deal with Sri Lanka to build a 900-megawatt coal power station on the Indian Ocean island, the government said on Tuesday.

Work on the Norochcholai coal plant, which has been shelved for nearly two decades due to opposition from environmental groups, will begin in October, the government said in a statement after the deal was agreed in Beijing.

"This coal power project will have a positive impact on Sri Lanka's economy, as it would bring down the cost of electricity and reduce Sri Lanka's dependency on diesel oil to generate electricity," the statement said.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga, in China on an official visit, witnessed the signing of a memorandum of understanding along with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Sri Lanka, which produces no crude oil of its own and must import all of its needs, has been pummelled by high international oil prices, which hit a record-high above $70 this week.

Cyclical droughts that hit hydropower generation have forced companies to rely on expensive-to-run diesel generators, and Sri Lanka is desperate to find ways to bring down energy costs that have put pressure on the island's balance of payments.

The Sri Lankan government hopes electricity charges will fall by up to 13 percent in 2010 and by up to 32 percent in 2012 thanks to the new coal plant, which would in turn ease pressure on the heavily indebted, loss-making Ceylon Electricity Board.

Cerrarán en China siete mil minas de carbón

31 ago 2005

Beijing (PL) - El gobierno chino se dispone a cerrar siete mil minas de carbón, un tercio del total nacional, antes de concluir 2005, por ser inseguras, indican informaciones divulgadas hoy.

La Administración Estatal de Seguridad en Minas de Carbón (AESMC) publicó la lista de las primeras mil 324 minas que deben detener su producción y alcanzar los parámetros nacionales de seguridad.

Aquellas que no los alcancen antes de concluir el año, serán clausuradas.

La lista total debe incluir siete mil, según funcionarios de la Administración.

Fuentes de esa entidad dijeron que un gran número de mineros quedará sin empleo, pero la producción nacional no se afectará en gran medida por tratarse de yacimientos de poco rendimiento.

Las estadísticas oficiales indican que existen en China unas 24 mil minas que aportan el 70 por ciento de la demanda energética de la nación.

Sin embargo, debido al carácter temporal y migratorio de la mayoría de sus operarios, se carece del dato exacto del número de trabajadores ocupados en esa esfera.

Una funcionaria de la AESMC afirmó que el gobierno emitirá en breve regulaciones para ordenar a las autoridades provinciales y locales que adopten un papel más activo en el control de la seguridad de las minas.

De no cumplir esas orientaciones, esos dirigentes serán fuertemente sancionados, según la misma fuente.

Algunos gobiernos locales y funcionarios han estado protegiendo a dueños de minas pobremente equipadas y han propiciado la ocurrencia de accidentes, que en el primer semestre del año causaron la muerte de unas dos mil 300 personas, afirmó la funcionaria.

La connivencia entre funcionarios gubernamentales y propietarios de minas de carbón empeora la situación de seguridad laboral y dificulta su control, argumenta la Administración, que espera mayores sanciones para los infractores.

El cotidiano China Daily afirma hoy que el gobierno central aplicó medidas para eliminar cuestiones improcedentes al pedir a los funcionarios gubernamentales y dirigentes de empresas estatales que retiren sus acciones de minas de carbón antes del 22 de septiembre.

China abandona la búsqueda de 120 mineros atrapados

Lunes 29 de Agosto, 2005


PEKIN - Rescatistas chinos abandonaron la búsqueda de 120 mineros atrapados durante varias semanas en una mina de carbón inundada, por lo que se elevó a 123 el número oficial de víctimas fatales a causa del accidente, informó la agencia de noticias Xinhua.

Sólo tres cuerpos fueron recuperados desde que la mina de carbón Daxing, ubicada en Xingning, en la sureña provincia de Guangdong, se inundó el 7 de agosto pasado, indicó Xinhua.

El accidente parecía ser el más fatal desde que 212 personas murieron en una explosión en una mina de carbón en la región noreste de China, en febrero pasado.

Aquella fue la peor explosión que golpeó a la industria minera más peligrosa del mundo en más en medio siglo.

Desastres mineros cobraron la vida de más de 2.700 personas en la primera mitad de 2005 y dejaron más de 700 muertos o desaparecidos en las seis semanas previas al 15 de agosto, informó Xinhua con anterioridad.

Los rescatistas tuvieron que suspender la búsqueda desde el viernes cuando colapsó una sección de la mina Daxing.

"Expertos atribuyeron el incidente al largo tiempo en el que se estuvo llenando la mina con agua y agregaron que esto podía poner el peligro la vida de los rescatistas," dijo Xinhua.

En el momento del accidente, la mina operaba sin licencia, violando las órdenes del gobierno local de que debía cerrarse para efectuar tareas de inspección, después de que en julio pasado una inundación en otra mina de la misma ciudad mató a 16 personas.

Muchas minas de China ignoran las normas de seguridad para satisfacer el crecimiento de la demanda de carbón, que el país utiliza para abastecer más de los dos tercios de su enorme consumo energético.

La prensa estatal había informado previamente que se estaba investigando si funcionarios del gobierno tenían participación en las operaciones de la mina Daxing, una práctica que es ilegal pero no poco común en China.

Más de 900 muertos en minas chinas este año

26 ago 2005

Beijing, (PL) China registró 951 muertos y 33 accidentes graves en minas de carbón en los primeros ocho meses de este año, según un informe oficial divulgado hoy.

El documento presentado a la actual sesión del Comité Permanente del parlamento chino precisa que las cifras corresponden al período del 1 de enero al 21 de agosto últimos y representan aumentos interanuales del 134 y 43,5 por ciento, respectivamente.

Una inspección nacional sobre el cumplimiento de la ley de seguridad laboral indicó que la mayoría de los accidentes en pozos hulleros tienen su origen en explosiones y que las minas pequeñas son más propensas a esos incidentes.

A fines de 2004, China contaba con 23 mil 388 minas de carbón pequeñas, cuya producción representa un tercio del total nacional.

En contraste, en esos sitios ocurren las dos terceras partes de los accidentes mortales.

Un documento de la Oficina General del Consejo de Estado emitido el lunes indica que todas las minas ilegales y aquellas que carezcan de las condiciones de seguridad requeridas deberán ser clausuradas antes de que concluya 2005.

Asimismo señala que serán investigadas las componendas entre propietarios de minas y funcionarios gubernamentales para mantener en explotación sitios inseguros.

La Administración Estatal de Seguridad Laboral trabaja actualmente en la formulación de un grupo de regulaciones con vistas a endurecer las sanciones a los responsables de los accidentes y aumentar las medidas de prevención.

CHINA: Newspaper suspended after exposing mining accident cover-up

September 27, 2005

New York— The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the suspension of a Chinese daily for reporting in August on the cover-up of a coal mining accident in the central city of Ruzhou. Henan Shang Bao (Henan Business News) was suspended for a month from September 17 for "inaccurate reporting" on orders of the General Administration of Press and Publications and the Central Propaganda Department, according to the Singapore-based Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao. A reporter and an editor have been suspended, and prominent Henan journalist Ma Yunlong, a news advisor to the daily, was asked to resign, according to news reports.

"It is outrageous that Chinese authorities should ban a newspaper from publishing for a month simply because it reports attempts to cover up yet another accident in an industry with a troubled safety record," CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said.

Henan Shang Bao detailed attempts by officials to suppress news of a flood in the mine in July. Local authorities paid a total of RMB 200,000 (US $24,715) in hush money to hundreds of real and bogus reporters who arrived in Ruzhou, the paper's reporter Fan Youfeng wrote. Fan, who had expected to be offered hush money, said that he accepted a bribe of RMB 1000 which he turned over to his office. Fan wrote that people posing as reporters turned up as news of the accident spread, believing that officials had paid hush money in the past. Fan's report was picked up by newspapers and online bulletin boards.

"The story is true; I have the interviews on tape. But I have been questioned by the government. It is very sensitive. I hope you understand I cannot say any more to you," Fan said when contacted by Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, according to a September 14 report.

Mining accidents kill thousands of workers in China each year, and often go unreported because of intimidation or bribes. In 2003, government-run Xinhua news agency reported that 11 of its reporters had been found guilty of accepting large bribes in the cover-up of a gold mine explosion that killed 46 people in Shanxi province the previous year.

454 officials punished for mining disasters

By Jiang Zhuqing (China Daily)

1st october 2005

Five ministerial officials head the list of 454 officials the Ministry of Supervision has disciplined for their involvement in 27 catastrophic coal mine disasters, it was announced on Friday.

Since 2001, the ministry has solved 27 of the 36 cases of severe colliery accidents it has handled, each of which caused the death of more than 30 miners, said Li Zhilun, head of the nation's supervision watchdog.

Besides the five ministerial officials, 60 heads of department (under a provincial government level) and 151 officials at the county level received punishment, Li said.

"An additional 140 have been transferred to judicial departments for relevant disciplinary action," he added.

Li's remarks appeared amidst a nationwide campaign to crack down on officials' illegal holding of stocks in coal mines investments regarded as a major factor in many accidents. Because of these business connections, blind eyes have often been turned to unsafe mines.

As of Thursday, at least 300 officials in Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region were confirmed to have withdrawn 33 million yuan (US$4 million) in investments from collieries. In addition, 497 officials in 27 provinces withdrew their investments by last week, Xinhua reported.

Huang Yi, spokesman for the State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS), told China Daily on Friday that SAWS had promulgated five regulations and rules to better implement a special order issued by the State Council on September 3 with the aim of enhancing coal mine safety.

Whistleblowers who report hidden perils or corrupt violations in the management of collieries to work safety departments could be given rewards of between 1,000 yuan (US$123) and 10,000 yuan (US$1,230).

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