Death on the job (China)

Zhang Ge, 27, his wife and 4-year-old daughter all dreamt of an easier and better family life. But those thoughts were destroyed on July 30 after Zhang died at the coal mine site where he worked in East China’s Jiangsu Province.

Zhang began working for the coal mine earlier this year in order to make a better salary. He was one of 18 miners working underground in the Zhangshuanglou coal mine in Xuzhou when a cave-in killed six workers.

For his wife and relatives, the accident was preventable because they found out that another similar accident occurred just a day before the fatal one. But the management ignored it and forced workers to go under.

Despite reservations, Zhang’s family signed a compensation deal with the mine owners about 10 days after the accident. The family will get 560,000 yuan ($82,291) for Zhang’s death.

“My brother-in-law’s parents agreed to sign the contract, since they hope their son could rest in peace as soon as possible instead of going to court,” Wu Ying, sister of Zhang’s wife, told the Global Times Sunday.

However, Wu remains puzzled about the safety measures at the site and whether the owners took precaution to ensure the safety of workers.

Zhang’s untimely death is just one of many across the country involving accidents. Thousands of Chinese workers are killed because of workplace accidents each year.

There were 45 deadly accidents from January to June this year and each causing at least 10 deaths, Huang Yi, a spokesman at the State Administration of Work Safety, told the Economic Daily earlier.

A total of 764 people died or went missing during workplace accidents from January to June, a 53.4 percent jump over the same period last year, Huang said.

Fatalities at construction sites or in factories are not rare. For example, 13 workers were killed during an explosion last month in an abandoned plastics plant in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province.

In addition, 38 miners were killed in a coal mine flood in Wangjialing, Shanxi Province in March this year while another 115 miners were pulled out alive after they were trapped for more than a week.

Figures from the State Administration of Coal Mine Safety showed that 2,631 coal miners were killed last year, compared with 6,995 in 2002.

Weak standard

Huang said poor or inadequate enforcement of safety measures are some of the main reasons for those deaths.

Out of the 45 serious workplace accidents, 15 were blamed on failure to follow regulations, he said.

Experts told the Global Times that the country has adequate workplace safety laws, and industrial accidents are not because of poor regulations. However, some companies cut corners at the expense of safety.

“The government attaches great importance to improving our legal system. But it cannot be sure its policies and regulations are being implemented,” said Li Guichen of the China University of Mining and Technology.

Li said the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security has the responsibility to enforce the law.

“Local governments normally do not have enough staff, so it is impossible to enforce the laws,” he said. “And sometimes local authorities want to increase their revenue, which makes it more difficult to enforce the laws and regulations.”

The All-China Federation of Trade Unions is supposed to relay workers’ concerns and protect their interests. However, Li said the federation is also understaffed and unable to handle all cases.

“Although China has some non-governmental organizations to help workers protect their rights, they are always confronted with many barriers when they try to fight,” he said.

More money

Compensation to families who lost loved ones in industrial fatalities will be increased next January. The new sum will be 20 times more than last year’s per capita income of urban residents, Luo Lin, director of the State Administration of Work Safety, said last month.

The per capita income, after taxes, among China’s urban residents last year was 17,300 yuan ($2,542). It means that the minimum compensation will be 346, 000 yuan per person under the new regulation.

Critics have raised concerns that increasing the compensation will push more bosses to cover up accidents, and workers rights will not be protected.

However, Li said increasing the compensation could help.

“Increase the compensation is an effective way of preventing accidents because it can urge coal mine owners or bosses to improve safety measures. Once they realize the compensation cost will be inestimable, they will do something,” Li said.

Workers said they still find it difficult to enjoy their rights, and they are all afraid that it will cost them a huge sum if they have to go to court.

Some measures are being put in place to stop the trend.

Huang from the State Administration of Work Safety said the office intends to launch a three-month campaign to fine those who violate safety rules.

Other measures include prohibiting companies with serious safety problems from launching new projects or buying additional land.

However that will not help victims and their families feel better.

Wu, the sister of Zhang Ge, said they agreed to the compensation package even though they believe the amount is insufficient and were not able to find out whether safety measures were in place.

“Even though we are waiting for the answers, the family still decided to sign the agreement. It is better than going to court. The compensation is equivalent to 10 years of salary, and it is not a large amount for his widow and daughter to survive on,” she said.


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