Deaths fuel anger over poor pay, conditions
A gas explosion at a mine in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi has killed 49 people and injured two.
"All mining operations have stopped. I mean the whole production line," said one official from the Fengcheng Municipal Mining Bureau. "We are going through safety training and reorganization. We have stopped production for several days now. We haven't been working since Nov. 11." Officials from the provincial government and members of the National Safety Production Supervisory Bureau have visited the Jianxin Coal Mine to investigate the accident, he said.
Official media reported that the explosion occurred at around 11 a.m. Nov. 14 at the state-run Jianxin Coal Mine, which is affiliated with the Fengcheng Municipal Mining Bureau.
A relative of one miner caught in the blast blamed poor safety standards at the mine for the accident.
"They told us it was caused by a gas explosion because the level of gas was very high. They ignored the safety rules," the man said, adding that the mine had produced good yields of high-quality coal during the past month. "The leader asked them to work more. They didn't pay attention to safety.
But the Fengcheng Municipal Mining Bureau official defended the mine's safety training programs that work to avoid such unsafe conditions.
"They go through a one-month training program. After that, they will be trained inside the mine so they can be familiar with the environment underground... The mining safety rules are very strict now, whether it's with state-run enterprises or township companies. Nobody wants to see accidents happen," he said.
A doctor from the Fengcheng Mining Bureau General Hospital, where seven of the wounded miners are being treated, told RFA, "At the moment, the two that have been seriously injured are still in critical condition. It's very serious. They have suffered from serious burns from the gas explosion."
Last week's blast was not the first such accident to happen at the Jianxin Coal Mine, the man confirmed in an interview with RFA reporter An Pei. "The year before last, there was a gas explosion, but it was not this serious. Over 20 people were killed."
He said Fengcheng city relied on coal for its energy needs, but that miners were required to work long hours for a pittance compared with the officials who oversaw them.
"The situation here is so out of control and unbearable," he told RFA. "The leaders are too greedy. They are so greedy. Many miners work for a whole month and only get paid 300 yuan (U.S. $36). And if a miner gets sick or takes a day off, the officials deduct from their meager pay to make up for it. For those officials and clerks who work in the offices above the ground, their salary is about 1,000 yuan (U.S. $120).
He said he knew one of the dead miners who had left behind a family. "He injured his foot last month and he had to be hospitalized. Before he had fully recovered, the leaders urged him to go back to work. A few days after he returned to work, he was killed," he said. "His family is in bad shape. His wife does odd jobs outside the mine, and he has a son who is only two-and-a-half years old."
Safety standards in China's mines are among the lowest in the world, with a total of 4,620 deaths reported in the first nine months of this year alone, the equivalent of 17 deaths a day. Most of these deaths occurred in coal pits.
The worst accidents happen in smaller, privately run mines that pay little attention to safety. Last year, more than 5,000 Chinese workers were killed in explosions, floods, cave-ins, and other accidents.
The Jianxin miner's relative said that that mine's safety record had not improved in spite of a government campaign to improve industrial safety. Instead, mine bosses were merely transferred to another job if an accident occurred while they were in charge.
He said the Jianxin mine boss, identified only by his family name Zhang, was scheduled for transfer to the municipal production safety bureau, but had delayed his move in order to profit from that month's high productivity. "He is not accepting responsibility," the man said. "The officials will naturally get a bonus. Ordinary workers should deserve a bonus too. The reality is that nobody gets any money. The officials have taken it all."