CHINA

Thirty-five killed in a collapsed mine – is corruption to blame?

There were 93 workers in the mine when a sudden firedamp explosion occurred. So far, only 14 have come out safe and sound. The local government claims that it had ordered the mine’s closure for security reasons. So why did this tragedy occur?

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There were 93 workers in the mine when a sudden firedamp explosion occurred. So far, only 14 have come out safe and sound. The local government claims that it had ordered the mine’s closure for security reasons. So why did this tragedy occur?

The explosion happened on September 8 at dawn, in one of the many underground galleries of the mining town of Pingdinshan, in Henan province. The initial death toll is 35, but 44 minors are reportedly still blocked at the bottom. Only journalists from the official state agency Xinhua were authorised to cover the accident.

Inside Chinese mines

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“The mine’s boss probably paid a local official to look the other way”

Cai Chongguo is a specialist in social problems in China. He lives in Paris and is the author of "Chine, l'envers de la puissance"("China, behind the power", in French only). He also writes a blog.

The mine’s boss didn’t respect the government order to close the exploitation; he probably paid off a government official for him to look the other way. That kind of thing happens a lot in China. It also happens that local authorities have shares in the mine’s profits and don’t want it to close down.

As of today, there has been no independent coverage of this accident. Authorities typically clamp down on the work of journalists in the weeks ahead of China’s national holiday on October 1, except for those who work for the government. So only the official government voice is promoted in the media.

The gradual privatisation of mines has led to deteriorating work conditions for mine workers for many years. They are often unskilled migrant workers, who can’t turn to unions for representation.

In response to multiple mine explosions over the past two years, several laws have been voted to improve workers' conditions. One of them makes it mandatory for employers to sign a work contract with their employees. Labour inspections should also become more frequent and rigorous.

But the goodwill of lawmakers has been met with staunch resistance from local leaders foiled by widespread corruption.

According to official statistics, 3,000 people died in mining accidents in 2008 [3,200 according to this AFP wire], but the real death toll is reportedly of around 10,000. As long as China rejects freedom of the press and workers' rights to organise labour unions, things will not get better."