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Profit Undermines Safety
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Fifty-six coal miners remain trapped under the pit of a private coal mine in the county of Zuoyun in north China's Shanxi Province. Rescue efforts have been going on for 10 days, but the chances of survival are now very slim.

An investigation has revealed that the miners may have dug into another deserted pit full of water, which flooded into the shaft where the miners were working.

But there are some indirect factors that are closely related to the disaster. If these had not pushed the miners to dig for as much coal as possible, the chances of these poor miners being trapped would have been reduced to the minimum.

Profit is the link to connect these elements, and it lubricates the entire process.

The owner of the mine had subcontracted the mine to the leaders of several groups of miners from southwest China's Sichuan Province, who then further subcontracted the production to leaders of lower level groups, who then set the miners' production quotas.

According to the contract, the owner pays a mining team 34 yuan (US$4.25) for every ton of coal, but he will sell the coal for six times as much.

In order to make money, the leaders of the groups coerced the lower level groups, whose leaders then forced the miners to dig as much coal as possible.

The more coal the miners could haul out of the pit, the more money its owner and those leaders would make.

What is even more ridiculous is the fact that the contract said the owner would not bear any responsibility for whatever happens to the miners while they were underground.

Such forms of coal production contracts and subcontracts are strictly forbidden according to related law and regulations. But such practices are quite common among many of the 180 mines in this county and others across the country.

Xinjing Coal Mine, the pit in question, has all the required licences and certificates for production and workplace safety.

The owner's brother is the head of the local people's congress and directly in charge of local coal production.

This relationship may help explain why such a coal mine without any safety facilities or measures could get the green light for illegal coal production.

An investigative team headed by Li Yizhong, director of the State Administration of Work Safety, was established on Saturday to uncover the corruption behind this tragedy.

A down-to-earth probe will hopefully deal a blow to those illegal mine operators.

(China Daily May 29, 2006)

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