Coal mine unions in Shanxi push collective wage negotiations

Trade union officials in Shanxi, the traditional heartland of China’s coal industry, plan to establish a system of collective wage negotiations that will help boost miners’ incomes across the province, the official Xinhua news agency reported on 6 September.

A pilot collective bargaining session between mine managers and workers’ representatives in the city Lüliang in August yielded an average monthly pay increase of 400 yuan; including a guaranteed basic wage of 750 yuan, an additional 22 yuan for each shift and monthly bonuses for long-serving and productive employees. The pilot project reportedly benefited 40,000 mine workers.

The project will now be rolled out across the entire province. Training classes in how to conduct collective bargaining were held by the coal mine trade union in the provincial capital Taiyuan on 13 September. And the union hopes that all mines in the province will have at least initiated the process by the end of the year.

The coal mining industry in Shanxi underwent major restructuring between 2008 and 2010, with small and medium-sized private coal mines being absorbed into larger state-owned mines. It was this restructuring process, concentrating production into a smaller number of major enterprises with a more stable workforce, which laid the groundwork for the establishment of the industry’s collective wage negotiation system this year.

Union officials said one of the reasons mine bosses were willing to engage in collective negotiations was because they had made substantial profits from the restructuring and there was now a well-established workforce with which to negotiate.

One of the key issues for coal industry has always been the high turnover of employees and a key part of the wage negotiations carried out in Lüliang focused on how to ensure that workers stayed with the mine. It was agreed, after four rounds of negotiations, that miners would get up to an additional 50 yuan per month, based on the number of years they had been employed at the mine.

In addition to agreements on wage levels, the union also hopes to negotiate agreements on workplace safety and the protection of women’s rights in coal mines. China Labour Bulletin has long argued that the key to improving safety in China’s notoriously dangerous mines is getting workers involved in monitoring and enforcing coal mine safety. Collective bargaining plays a key role in this process because it allows workers to negotiate agreements with management on safe working practices, and set up work safety supervisory committees run by the miners themselves.

For more details, see the commentary written by CLB Director Han Dongfang in November 2009, at the height of the restructuring process in Shanxi.
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