China's legislature is amending work safety laws to increase punishments for offenders and protect labor rights, a minister said over the weekend.
Li Yizhong, minister of the State Administration of Work Safety, said lax laws, rules and regulations and inefficient enforcement have contributed to the grim work safety situation that has plagued the country for years.
"Compared with punishment in other countries, there is plenty of room for our legislature to revise the Criminal Law and other laws," said Li. "We should become determined to use the severest punishment to overawe offenders."
China's Criminal Law stipulates that work safety criminals can be given a maximum seven-year prison sentence, and the time can be reduced once behind bars.
Meanwhile, companies that do not meet national work safety standards can be fined a maximum of only 200,000 yuan (US$25,000) if accidents take place.
"In developed countries work safety laws are much tougher," Li said,
Lifelong imprisonment is possible if companies in the United States violate laws and encroach upon labor rights.
And in Australia, coal mine owners and executives will be barred from the mining business for the rest of their lives if accidents take place in their mines. Of course, they will also be charged with higher fines.
"In a maturing market economy, the legislature and the government should set up a strict but fair legal framework for companies and require them to protect labor rights," said Li.
In addition to tightening the legal system, Li said it is equally important to improve safety awareness among the workers, most of whom are migrants.
Huang Shengchu, president of China Coal Information Institute, told China Daily that mining is dangerous and poorly paid, and only farmers from the poorest regions choose to work in what are often underground death traps.
"The most important thing is that poorly-educated farmers-turned-miners receive training and guidance," said Huang.
Statistics indicate that nearly half of China's 5.5 million coal miners are migrant workers from northern Sichuan, southern Shaanxi, and the mountainous regions of Jiangxi, Fujian and Henan provinces.
Because of poor safety awareness and substandard equipment, the situation in the mines is as bad as ever, said Zhao Tiechui, director of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety.
University graduates are not willing to work in collieries, said Li. Statistics show that a total of 38,000 students graduated from mining-related universities nationwide from 1999 to 2002, but less then 10 percent of them chose to work in mines.
"We are going to come up with more attractive measures to recruit more students with mining qualifications and enrich the manpower of the sector," said Li.
(China Daily June 19, 2006)