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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Black Coal, Red Blood

World ignores ongoing tragedy of China's Coal Mining industry

China Mining TragedyWhy is it that the world is largely quiet, no deafeningly silent, on the ongoing tragedy of China's Coal Mining industry?

Is it because the 7,000 to 10,000 Chinese coal miners that die each year are paid to die? Is it because it is a "work related" accident that somehow makes it anymore palatable than deaths occurring from tanks being driven over innocent civilians?

On rare occasions a news agency will pick up and run with an editorial piece like that which I link to here, outlining the startling figures of death and destruction of poor, mainly rural, Chinese, sent into 300 meter deep coal mine shafts.

Othertimes the deaths of, say, 35 men drowned in a coal pit, will make a byline in some of the international papers. It is not that they do not have plenty to choose from; gas explosions, mine collapses, deadly gas leaks, flooding, slag heap collapses.

Human interest angles are also there aplenty for the intrepid journalists; families that have lost two generations of menfolk, crippled miners who will never work again subsisting on a pittance of compensation if any. Corruption galore, employment policies that "favour" poor, out of town rural uneducated laborers because their families do not demand huge compensation payouts when their loved ones die.

But even this plethora of "good" news grist does not attract the world's media to the extent that you think it would or should. But the lack of interest from the world's media is nothing as compared to the lack of interest from the world's governments and Human-Rights Groups. Why? I can't answer that, I really just do not know other than to think that because these Chinese miners die in the commission of paid labour that it is somehow ok, that it is acceptable.

The Chinese Government certainly seems to think that it is an acceptable cost of doing business. How else could they explain that in China there are 2.7 miners dying for every one million tons of output. This is compared with .03 for the United States. More Chinese miners can die from one "accident" than die in a whole year in America.

I put asterisks around "accidents" because that is a misnomer when used to describe tragic incidents in China's Coal mining industry. The dictionary definition of an accident is that it is an event without apparent cause or one that is unexpected or can not be foreseen. That does not describe the events leading to the death and destruction in the Chinese instance.

China is aware that for each ton of coal mined to fuel it's seemingly insatiable economy people will die or be injured. They know that with each new demand for increased production (around the mid teens percentage increase each year)that it is inevitable that more deaths will occur at an exponential rate. They know that a large majority of mines do not even meet their minimalistic safety requirements, they know that thousands of mines operate illegally protected by corrupt officials or small mining towns with no other means of income. They know this but are not prepared to do anything substantial other than to mouth platitudes after each "serious' occurrence.

According to the linked article Han Dongfang, director of the Hong Kong-based workers' rights watchdog, China Labor Bulletin is quoted as saying .

"In China right now the most important thing is money,"
"It is more important than the dignity of workers, than the rights of workers, the health of workers and the safety of workers."

We know why the Chinese government turns a blind eye to the tragedy, it is severely energy starved and coal mining fuels 70% of the energy demands of it's burgeoning economy but why the miners? Why do they toil many times for 12 hours per day six days a week without any entitlements that workers in the west are accustomed to as a right such as holiday, sick pay, pensions plans workers compensation and other insurances.

Well they do receive what for many Chinese is the princely sum of 3,000 yuan (362 dollars) a month but for many mine employment is one of the few ways they can beat China's huge rural unemployment problems. They are not unaware of the risks but are willing to take them for the good of their families and because there is no other option.

"Once my kids are out of college, I won't do this anymore. This is all for the next generation,"

the article quotes a miner Wang from Shanxi Province.

It is about time that this issue received the prominence it deserves from Governments, human-rights organisations, labor organisations and international mining associations of employers. Something has to be done.

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