Explosion at state-owned coal mine kills 26

08 December 2010
At least 26 miners died when a gas explosion ripped through a coal mine in the central province of Henan on Tuesday 7 December. State media reported that 20 of 46 miners thought to be underground at the time had been safely evacuated.

The disaster came just one week after seven miners died in a flooded coal mine in Xiangtan, Hunan province. According to the official Chinese media, mine owners and managers had been warned at least four weeks earlier of the potential safety hazards at the mine.

In both cases, the mines had recently merged with other mines or mining groups in a bid to boost production. Local media in Henan reported that Suzhuang coal mine was being restructured after its acquisition by the state-owned Yima Group and that coal production should have been halted during the restructuring process.

Both disasters illustrate once again the failure of local government oversight and regulation in China’s coal industry. As China Labour Bulletin noted in a letter to senior government and trade union officials last month, the current approach of relying on local government officials to monitor coal mine safety and expecting coal mine managers to take the initiative in introducing proper safety measures, clearly is not working.

CLB argued that there is an increasingly urgent need to fundamentally rethink China’s approach to coal mine safety, and introduce a system that puts coal miners, the one group currently excluded from safety initiatives, at the centre of the coal mine health and safety system by creating miners’ committees to monitor conditions and implement safety plans. In addition, miners, under the auspices of the trade union, should engage in collective bargaining with mine management to ensure that miners get paid a decent basic wage, so that they don’t have to risk their lives and the lives of their colleagues by reckless coal production in a bid to earn a bigger pay cheque.
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