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Improvements Promised on Work Safety
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China's legislature is adjusting work safety laws to increase punishments for those who offend and to ensure labor rights are properly protected, a minister said at the weekend.

Li Yizhong, minister of the State Administration of Work Safety, said lax regulations and inefficient enforcement of them had contributed to the grim work safety statistics which had plagued the country for years.

"Compared with punishments in other countries there's plenty room for our legislature to revise the Criminal Law and other laws," said Li. "We should be determined to use the severest punishments to deal with offenders."

China's Criminal Law stipulates that those found guilty of work safety crimes can be given a maximum seven-year prison jail sentence and that the term if imprisonment can be reduced once an offender is behind bars.

Companies who do not meet national work safety standards can be fined a maximum of just 200,000 yuan (US$25,000) if accidents happen. 

"Compared with the work safety laws here those in developed countries are much tougher," Li said. Life imprisonment is an option if companies in the US violated labor laws or employee rights.

In Australia coal mine owners and executives can be barred from the business for life if accidents occur in their mines. There's also a structure for big fines to be imposed. .

"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.

According to a regulation on coal mine safety constituted by the state council last year mines which have instructed to stop production can be fined from one to a maximum five times of any illegal income they've made. Currently Criminal, Mine Safety, Coal and other related laws and regulations in China are being amended. 

In addition to tightening up the legal system Li said it is equally important to improve safety awareness among the mostly migrant workforce. 

Huang Shengchu, president of China Coal Information Institute, told China Daily that mining was dangerous and poorly paid and only people such as farmers from the poorest regions chose to work in what were, all too 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 migrants 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 was as bad as ever, said Zhao Tiechui, director of the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety.

University graduates are not willing to work in mines, 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 actually worked in the industry. 

"We're going to come up with more attractive measures to recruit more students with mining qualifications and improve the manpower of the sector," said Li.

(China Daily June 19, 2006)

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