HONG KONG—Eight workers who were trapped in a flooded mine shaft in the central Chinese province of Henan are presumed dead after a disaster at a privately run coalmine that employed local workers.
"They go and work in the mines because they haven't got any income...There's not enough land to till to make a living."
"We have already told the families of those trapped that the likelihood of their survival is not very great," Chairman Hu of the Ruzhou city official labor union told RFA's Mandarin service.
"They will be compensated according to the relevant rules," Hu said, adding that the families could expect to receive around 180,000 yuan (U.S.$21,740) in compensation.
The flooding occurred at 2 p.m. local time at the No.2 Zaoyuan coalmine of Mangchuan village, near Ruzhou city, on Oct. 17, according to a statement by the State Administration on Workplace Safety (SAPS).
As in many other parts of China, those affected had been forced into such dangerous and difficult work by biting poverty, local residents told RFA.
"Most of the people there are from this area. Peasant workers. They go and work in the mines because they haven't got any income," one resident of Mangchuan village told RFA reporter Han Dongfang. "There's very little else around here. There's not enough land to till to make a living."
"I saw the boss of the mine, and he was detained to stop him from running away...He will be dealt with according to law."
China's coalmines feed 70 percent of the booming economy's energy needs, but coal production comes at a heavy price in human life. In the first six months this year alone, 3,758 people died in mining accidents, according to SAPS figures.
Hu, who has recently visited the scene of the accident, said five people had escaped the disaster in Mangchuan, however.
"Five people escaped. They have now returned home...Originally the mine was a village enterprise run by Mangchuan village, but then it was sold to private ownership."
He said local officials were keen to ensure that those responsible for lax safety enforcement were held to account. "I saw the boss of the mine, and he was detained to stop him from running away... He will be dealt with according to law."
He said the mine, which employs between 60 and 70 people working three shifts around the clock, had only just set up a branch of the official labor union in August.
China doesn’t tolerate labor unions other than the officially recognized Communist Party union.
While the official All China Federation of Trade Unions has recently been more vocal about supporting workers' rights and safety, Hu's description of the set-up at Mangchuan suggested the union was little more than a cosmetic exercise.
"The labor union leader was also the deputy mine chief," Hu told RFA. "He's not there now. I'm not sure where he is now. It's quite possible that he's run away."