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City Authorities Under Fire After New Mining Accident Regulation
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City authorities in Taiyuan, north China's coal-rich Shanxi Province, are under fire due to a new regulation which states that, in the event of death or injury, people working in illegal mines will no longer be eligible for compensation from the government.

"Workers employed at illegal mines have to be held responsible for their own safety," the Taiyuan Municipal Land and Natural Resources Bureau (LNRB) said in an announcement earlier this week.

The announcement was distributed to the 100,000 migrants that live in the city, in a bid by the city authorities to crack down on illegal mining activities.

"In case of death or injury at work, it is up to workers themselves and the mine owners to agree upon a compensation scheme," warning that the government would no longer compensate illegal miners. The families of workers killed in mine disasters usually get at least 200,000 yuan (US$25,641) in compensation from the government, a sum which many will no longer be entitled to.

As a result, the Taiyuan city authorities have come under increasing pressure from local labor unions, with some accusing the city of discrimination.

"Of course the government is responsible if the migrants' legitimate right is jeopardized by illegal mine owners," said Chen Ting, a lawyer with a Taiyuan-based law firm.

Chen also blamed the rampant illegal mining activities on the poor efficiency of the government's workplace safety watchdog

A spokesperson from the Taiyuan LNRB said they had not introduced the regulation with intent to discriminate against anyone, stressing that the circular contained frank warnings that workers should, "Stay away from illegal mines for their own sake".

The LNRB spokesperson added that illegal, often small, coal mines run by profit-driven business owners had been threatening the safety of miners for years because of their lax management and absence of the necessary labour protection measures.

"We have repeatedly warned migrants not to take jobs at these mines, but many people have turned a deaf ear," the spokesman said.

However Luo Liyan, a migrant worker in the city doesn't agree. He believes that penalizing the miners is not an effective way for the authorities to solve the problem of illegal mining operations in the region -- sometimes they are not aware whether their employer is legal or not.

Despite the risks, the mining sector offers job stability and relatively high income compared with other migrant jobs. Even illegal mines pay more than 1,000 yuan (US$128.2) a month -- an attractive amount for rural migrant-workers who make just 2,000 yuan (US$256.4) a year from working on the farms.

According to statistics from the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety, mine accidents killed 4,746 people in China last year. On average, 13 miners lose their lives every day in Chinese coal mines -- the world's deadliest.

Small, illegal mines, are predicted to make up around one third of China's coal mines, accounting for over two thirds of the annual fatality rate.

The government has pledged to close 4,000 small mines with production capacities below 300,000 tons before the end of this year, aiming to keep just 10,000 small coal mines in operation by 2010.

Shanxi Province, dubbed China's "coal capital", is expected to cut the number of its mines to 3,200 by June this year, a significant drop from the previous total of 9,000.

(Xinhua News Agency May 18, 2007)

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