The most serious accident occurred on Saturday evening when a fire swept through a privately-run mine in Hancheng, Shaanxi, killing 28 miners working underground at the time. The mine owner was subsequently detained by police.
In another accident on Saturday, eight miners died after a fire broke out in a mine in Henan. The following day, 18 July, two miners were killed in an explosion at a mine in Hunan, and 13 miners were trapped underground after a mine in Gansu flooded. All 13 were confirmed dead six days later on 23 July.
The accidents highlight once again the appalling safety record of China’s coal mines and the lax management of privately-run mines in particular.
Many mines do not keep proper records of their employees and very often do not have a clear idea of how many miners are underground at any one time. Local government officials in Hancheng confirmed that about 80 percent of the dead miners there were migrant workers and that they were struggling to identify them.
Most miners in China today are poorly educated, unskilled migrants who have no formal employment contract with the mine and are paid solely on a piece rate basis. If they are injured or fall ill with coal workers pneumoconiosis, as tens of thousands do each year, they have little or no recourse to redress and have to rely on what little they can get from the boss in the way of compensation.
A recent news report on China Central Television exposed the problems faced by migrant workers in the country’s coal mines and called on local government officials to be more flexible and sympathetic towards injured miners who cannot meet the requirements for compensation because they lack a formal employment contract with the mine.
The television news report focused on the case of retired Sichuan miner, Xiao Huazhong, who is dying from pneumoconiosis and had been battling for compensation from his former boss for over three years. Soon after the report was aired, Xiao was awarded 136,000 yuan compensation in a court mediated settlement.