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Workers' Voices

Qitaihe Mining Bureau rushes bereaved families into compensation agreements (VII)

[Broadcast on 28 February 2006]

With the sound of a large explosion on the evening of 27 November last year, tragedy struck at the Qitaihe Dongfeng coal mine, part of the Longmei Group in Heilongjiang province. According to the mine, 171 miners trapped at the coal face were killed.

In previous broadcasts, the family members of those killed in this accident have told us about the unfair treatment they received from the mining company, which they said did not allow them to engage in any kind of negotiations. It unilaterally decided on compensation of 200,000 yuan for the life of each miner killed in the accident. At the same time, the company offered the families a 10,000 yuan early signing bonus to lure them into agreeing immediately to the compensation terms. The mining company demanded that the families sign the compensation agreement immediately after identifying the bodies to qualify for the extra 10,000 yuan. It said it would deduct 3,000 yuan a day from this extra 10,000 yuan for every day that the families delayed in signing the agreement.

Fearing the loss of this 10,000 yuan, which is roughly equivalent to a year's wages for many of the miners, members of the two families that we have interviewed in the earlier broadcasts on the Qitaihe accident, said they signed the agreement with deep reservations. After the family members recovered their senses, they requested the mining company apply for minimum daily living assistance for them. (Editor's note: this is the Chinese equivalent of social security.) But these requests were rejected. One of those was the wife of a retired miner who died in the accident. The wife told us that her husband had gone back to work in the mine because they could not live on his pension. After the accident the Work Unit, which was handling the compensation arrangements, told her that according to the regulations, she was not entitled to receive the 200,000 yuan pay-out and that in taking it, she was taking advantage of the goodwill of the company. The last part of my conversation with this miner's wife follows here.

Miner's wife: He said that I had already received more than I deserved according to the regulations. I said: "You say you have given me too much, and I still say that you haven't given me enough." My husband is dead and it is because of an accident that happened in your mine. It isn't because of anything that we did. You say that I am taking advantage of you. My husband got just 550 yuan [a month in pension payments.] My husband worked here for 20 years. This money that you have agreed on [to pay as compensation] is money that we earned. How can you say that I am taking advantage of you? I am not getting the 100 yuan a month in minimum daily living assistance paid to the wives [of retired workers]. I don't have that. This is a little hard for me to take. Regardless of how much pension money I receive, I would like to have a source of income to meet my daily expenses. He said that I should bring it up later. That's the situation.

Han Dongfang:  So they completely ignored all of your ideas and requests?

Miner's wife: Yes. And I don't understand it. He was so happy that morning when he left for work. He talked to the child, telling him that he had brought him some bread. Then at 9 o'clock, there was a 'caboom' sound of an explosion. All the glass in my house shook. Our house is very close to the mine! This is very hard to take. How can he just be gone, just like that? At that time, there were people everywhere. But I've barely seen the shadow of a person in the past three days. It's just too terrible. My husband was a very good man. For as long as I live, I will never forget him. The [grand] child made him so happy. He worked hard to put his daughter through university. She hasn't graduated yet, and now we have nothing. I'm just shattered. They've told us to leave here and I guess we'll go. I can't stand it here.

Han: Do you have any neighbours nearby?

Miner's wife: Yes, there are some.

Han: You said that there is a family living nearby that lost two sons [in the accident], didn't you?

Miner's wife: They've moved. They've gone to stay with relatives. They've gone to their parents' place. I'm all alone. I'm over 50 years old. But I can't leave this place for now. Where can I go? I cry everyday. I can't stand to think of it. He was in such a good mood when he left for work, and now I'll never see him again. Sometimes I think that I won't be able to keep it together without him. It's such a shock and I can't stand it.

Han: Now, that he is dead, you won't get the pension money, will you?

Miner's wife: The retirement payment is actually his salary for December. I have not received his pay for January. I only got that one month, all according to the regulations. We can only listen to what they say. I told them that my child [son] doesn't have a job. And a child that has suffered this kind of thing cannot go down in the mine. The whole family will be so worried. I said some kind of auxiliary services job would be ok, but they didn't agree. Those who were handling my case said: "Sister, don't ask for anything else. According to the regulations, we've given you a couple hundred thousand yuan which is a lot. No matter how you calculate it, we have given you more than you deserve."

Han: What do they mean by more than you deserve? What does that mean?

Miner's wife: They said it was based on the family's situation. The children don't get anything, because they are over 18 and have their own sources of income. This money, earned with his blood, sweat and tears, is only for the wife. That is what they mean. They said the payout is calculated based on his wages and on that basis I don't get more than 200,000 yuan. He said I was taking advantage of the company. I said I was just an ordinary housewife who didn't understand any of this. I don't understand the law, but I know that the relatives of the deceased are entitled to a daily living allowance of more than 100 yuan a month. He said the company's payment would be a lump sum payment and that would be it. I had to listen to what he said. I listened to everything that they said.
Han: So at that time there was nothing that you could do?

Miner's wife: Yes, nothing I could do. There were so many people killed and injured in this accident. They're not very nice when you ask them questions, and I'm just a housewife and I can't express myself very well.

Han: Later did you think about getting professional legal help and seeking compensation through the civil court?

Miner's wife: No. There is nothing else. There is only this 200,000 yuan. The mine also gave 2,000 yuan and the government, the People's Administrative Bureau, gave me 1,500 yuan. That's the sum total of it.

Han: Who else is in your family?

Miner's wife: There is my daughter who is still in university and my son who is just doing some odd jobs. He can't go down in the mine.

Han: So you have two children.

Miner's wife: Two children and there is my daughter-in-law and the little one.

Han: How old is your grandson?

Miner's wife: My grandson is just one year old. He just had his birthday. But at this time, we don't have him [my husband]. I cry everyday. I cry because he is gone from us.

Han: How is your health?

Miner's wife: My health is not too good. I often don't feel well. I have high blood pressure and arthritis, and my heart is not good. Now that he's gone, things are even worse. My nerves are not very good.

Han: Do you have any contact with the families of the other victims?

Miner's wife: Everyone has left. None of the young people have stayed here. But I am a little old and I've got to hang on here.

Han: Do you have contact with any of the other retirees?

Miner's wife: I don't know the other retirees. There is one other family in the same situation as me. They have one child in university, but they couldn't live here and they've left, too. I told them [in the company] that my husband was retired and now I have 200,000 yuan and they say that is a lot of money. I have no other demands, [except that] you give me a daily living allowance, that is, just 100 yuan a month or a little more in a daily living allowance, then I will have enough to buy rice, to buy oil, salt, soy sauce and vinegar. But they wouldn't give me this. I can't take it. I just want 100 yuan or so in income for daily expenses. I asked for it, but I didn't get it. You give me 200,000 yuan, but my husband is gone. I don't think that's fair. I'll tell you the truth. My son is going to start school immediately. When he starts, I need to hand over 5,000 to 6,000 yuan. I told him that I am giving him the money that his father paid for with his life. I said after Lunar New Year, who am I going to ask for this 100 yuan or more in daily living allowance? That is all I need to live on and buy essentials like rice and noodles. But I can't even get that.  We ordinary people really believe that we won't be able to convince anybody.

This is the end of my conversation with the wife of one of the miners killed in the accident at the Dongfeng Coal Mine in Qitaihe, part of the Longmei Group in Heilongjiang province. If any of you listening would like to call me, we can discuss these social security and labour rights issues.