MAC: Mines and Communities

China update

Published by MAC on 2008-01-05

China update

5th January 2008

China is initiating a national pollution inventory to identify point sources of the country's pollution. The country also has a new labour law which should improve some workers' bargaining rights. However, it doesn't empower workers to negotiate with management independently of the state-backed ACFTU.

Small-scale miners of iron ore in China-occupied Tibet are being told to halt operations because they are too damaging to the environment. The prohibition will join earlier prmulgated bans on the extraction of mercury, arsenic, peat and placer gold

China to Begin First National Pollution Survey in February


4th January 2008

The first nationwide census of pollution sources will start next month, the head of the State Environmental Protection Administration, SEPA, said at a meeting here Friday.

The survey will identify sources of industrial, agricultural and residential pollution and also calculate the number of environmental remediation facilities in operation, said SEPA Director Zhou Shengxian during a meeting held by the State Council, according to the official state news agency Xinhua.

"Collecting data of various pollution sources will be an important basis for environmental protection, a crucial gist for optimizing economic structure and an important step toward an environment-friendly society," said Chinese Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan at the same meeting.

Environment statistics, monitoring and assessment systems should be improved, Zeng said, adding that findings of the pollution sources survey should be developed and applied.

It will take about two months to collect the data and each piece of information will be reviewed four times before being entered into the database, said Zhou. Data collection will be completed in the first half of this year.

The data collected will be analyzed in the second half of the year, he said. In the first half of 2009, the survey findings will be examined and approved.

Officials from the SEPA and the Ministry of Agriculture will staff the headquarters office of the survey in Beijing, while every province, autonomous region and municipality has set up an office to conduct the survey.

"The result of the census will not be linked to any punishment or evaluation of the performance of local administrations," Zhou said. Any administration, company or institution should not fear repercussions but should instead guarantee true, credible results, he said.

The country has been preparing for the census for more than a year. The central government allocated 737 million yuan (US$100 million) to preparations in 2007.

The government is making efforts to reduce pollution, but experts have complained about a lack of trustworthy statistics on the sources and extent of pollution and the number of remediation facilities. These complaints led to the decision by the State Council in October 2006 to conduct the census.

China set its target of cutting energy consumption by 20 percent per unit of gross domestic product and major pollutants by 10 percent from 2005 to 2010.

But it flunked its first test last year. Its chemical oxygen demand, an index of water pollution, grew by 1.9 percent, and sulfur dioxide emissions grew by 2.4 percent in 2006, according to SEPA figures. Currently, 26 percent of the country's surface water is unusable, 62 percent is unsuitable for fish and 90 percent of the rivers running through cities are polluted.

SEPA Vice-minister Pan Yue said in February that the next round of battle against foul water and air would focus on industries and regions that had not reduced pollution and energy consumption, areas along polluted rivers and lakes, and places suffering from serious pollution accidents and having high potential environmental risks.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

Chinese labour law set to boost costs

By Tom Mitchell in Hong Kong and Geoff Dyer in Shanghai

Financial Times

1st January 2008

Employers in China fear that a new labour contract law that took effect on Tuesday will intensify growing pressures on manufacturing costs by enhancing the bargaining power of workers.

“We estimate that, added together, labour costs [in mainland China] will be close to 40 per cent higher for this year [2008],” said Willy Lin, Hong Kong-based managing director of Milo’s Knitwear (International) Group.

Mr Lin says the new labour contract law, which will make it harder to dismiss workers, could increase costs by about 8 per cent this year, with the rest of the increase caused by higher minimum wages, social security payments and the renminbi’s steady appreciation against the US dollar.

“There’s basically nothing you can do,” he added. “Some companies have tried to force resignations and start everyone from scratch, but that isn’t a way out.”

The new labour law closes a loophole that allowed companies to dismiss workers on temporary or fixed-term contracts without compensation, or even employ them without a formal contract altogether – often through third-party labour agencies.

From January 1, workers who have been with a company for 10 years – or signed two fixed-term contracts – will be entitled to one month’s severance pay for every year worked. The law also requires employers to consult an “employee representative congress”, usually a branch of the official All China Federation of Trade Unions, on any changes to matters including hours, benefits and compensation.

The new law, which was more than two years in the making before its final passage in July, was the subject of intense interest and scrutiny from companies, workers and union groups. When an early draft was posted on the internet for public comment in March 2006, it generated more than 190,000 responses in a month.

“This was a perfect example of how all laws should be dealt with. It took into account everyone’s comments,” said Harley Seyedin, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in South China. “They’ve given us something that everyone can live with. But costs are still going to go up of course.”

Labour rights groups, which welcomed the law as a “laudable” step forward, are worried that patchwork implementation in different localities could water down its protections.

The Hong Kong liaison office of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions points to a new draft contract drawn up by labour officials in Dongguan, a leading manufacturing centre in southern Guangdong province, that it says “contains [regressive] clauses which restrict industrial action and contradict the new law itself”.

The China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based workers’ rights lobby, notes that the labour law mandates that workers in factories where ACFTU does not have a presence must nevertheless seek the official union’s “direction” or “guidance”.

“This represents a significant climbdown from provisions in the second draft of the new law which allowed workers representatives to independently negotiate with management,” CLB said.

Mr Lin, meanwhile, argues that constraining companies’ ability to dismiss workers is something of a moot point in the context of a tight labour market, with factories in China’s coastal manufacturing hubs struggling to remain fully staffed. He estimates that factories could experience turnover rates as high as 40 per cent during next month’s Chinese new year holiday, with as many as 20 per cent of workers opting to work closer to their homes in inland provinces.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008

Tibetan government enforces placer iron ore mining ban

The government of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) has begun enforcing the ban on placer iron ore mining, which came into effect Jan. 1., a Tibet Bureau of Land and Resources official, who asked to remain anonymous, told Interfax Thursday.

The TAR government announced the ban against placer mining at a routine governmental meeting on Dec. 29, 2007, in an effort to further regulate the mineral resource development of the region and to protect the environment, local media Tibet Daily reported this week.

"Miners of placer iron ore as well as other placer minerals are urged to remove their equipment from mining areas before the end of March 2008, as well as to repair environmental damage caused by the mining," a senior official with Tibet Bureau of Land and Resource was cited as saying in thereport.

"Placer iron ore is of very low grade, while the mining of placer iron ore will result in severe damage to the land cover and river channels," the senior official said.

The TAR government also plans to officially prohibit mercury, arsenic, peat and placer gold mining by including the ban in the Tibetan Mineral Resource General Planning regulation, which is scheduled to be updated in the near future, as previously reported by Interfax.

[Interfax China Mining and Metals, 4 January 2007]

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