Happy Labour day now get down that mine

As International Labour Day rolls by, China Labour Bulletin released some figures for reported deaths and injuries in the country’s death-trap coalmines, and Channel NewsAsia has a piece on the latest daily disasters in two northern state-owned coalmines which have left 50 dead.

The accidents came as China pledged to improve worker’s rights and as a Hong Kong-based labour rights group warned that a total lack of independent worker’s organizations was contributing to the appalling safety record in Chinese mines.

A gas explosion ripped through a mine in northern Shanxi province on Friday leaving 35 dead and one missing, while 15 miners were feared dead after a flood in an illegally operating mine in neighboring Inner Mongolia, officials and press reports said Saturday.

Shanxi governor Zhang Baoshun was overseeing rescue operations and the investigation into the blast at the Liangjiahe state-owned mine near Linfen city, Hou Jieyan, a spokesman for the Shanxi Coal Mining Safety Inspection Bureau told AFP.

Although the governor interrupted his holiday to direct operations at the accident site, before the blast the mine had intended to work through the week-long labour holiday to avoid costly safety procedures.

Most of China’s energy comes from coal, the demand for which is driven by the insatiable economic growth of the last 15 years. Many of the mines are old, unstable and operate clandestinely using workers who have no access to basic safety, health and rights and are unable to form independent unions or engage in collective bargaining.

“Workers and farmers in China are the weakest social classes and they are mainly weak because they have no collective power, if you give them the freedom of association, then these groups would not be so weak,” Han [Dongfang, director of the Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin] said.

The accidents come as China Friday agreed to work with the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO) to address growing unrest among its tens of millions of unemployed workers and up to 100 million migrant workers through internationally accepted practices.