Liaoning and Shaanxi Coal Mine Disasters Prompt Call for Better Safety Measures

March 1, 2005

After coal mine disasters at Sunjiawan in Liaoning province and Chenjiashan in Shaanxi province, many Chinese publications and organizations are assessing the need for new mine safety measures. Writer Jian Jia, in an opinion piece in China's Ministry of Justice publication Legal Info, describes the disaster as "a lesson learned in blood," echoing Premier Wen Jiabao’s remark about the Shaanxi mine explosion. Jian finds that the pursuit of profits has taken away the incentive to implement safety precautions. He quotes a cynical view apparently common in the coal industry: "We can afford death rather than injury, simply because prevention of death costs more than death."

Jian suggests an increase in death benefits as a way to press the industry to improve, by making miners' deaths more costly. Han Dongfang, the Chinese labor activist based in Hong Kong, has also promoted this idea, according to the South China Morning Post. He says that payouts of 3,000 yuan ($362) are insufficient to motivate mine owners. And without union representation, miners are in a poor bargaining position, Han says.

Sara Davis and Mickey Spiegel, writing in an Asian Wall Street Journal article, share Han’s view that the Chinese government should end restrictions on independent labor unions, arguing that unions have "revolutionized" mining conditions elsewhere in the world. They also advocate China's ratification of ILO Convention 176 on Safety and Health in the Coal Mines.