China’s coal mines are notorious; not only for their high accident rates but also for the collusion between mine owners and local government officials, which allows mine bosses to cover-up accidents and deny workers and their families proper compensation for work-related injuries.
When Li Jianguo was disabled in a mine accident in 2008, his employer only paid for emergency medical treatment and a few months’ hospital fees, then tried to force the family to sign an agreement that would absolve the mine of any future responsibility for Li’s medical care or loss of earnings. The local labour department refused to help leaving Li dependant on loans from friends and family members.
CLB Director Han Dongfang talked to Li and his wife in March 2010 about their two-year struggle for decent compensation.
The accident occurred on 5 June 2008 when Li and two other miners were ascending in a pit cage after their shift. The cause of the accident has never been officially determined but it left Li severely injured. He can not work and suffers from double incontinence. The two other miners suffered broken legs.
Emergency care only
The injured miners were taken straight away to the local hospital. But when they arrived they were told by management there was a power outage and that they would have to wait for it to be repaired before getting any medical treatment. Li’s wife demanded that her husband, who was the most seriously injured, be taken to the municipal hospital in Pingdingshan but the mine management refused. After many arguments back and forth, Li was transferred to the Baofeng County Peoples Hospital.
Li was operated on the afternoon of 6 June and was hospitalized for nearly six months. However, the mine boss only paid only for the first two to three months’ medical expenses (including surgery) which came to 450,000 yuan in total. Li said:
The mine boss paid us less than three months’ medical fees, and then he started to cheat me. Unable to come up with the money, I asked him if I could borrow some and pay him back later. Then someone from my family went to ask him for some money and was actually given a small sum. But afterwards he wouldn’t give us any.
The mine subsequently paid another 40,000 yuan, in a piecemeal fashion, but the mine management consistently refused to discuss the mine’s legal liability for work-related injury compensation and even threatened to beat him up if he kept pushing the issue.
The cover-up begins
On 5 October 2008, Li's wife made a last ditch attempt to go to the mine to demand reasonable compensation. Mine director Du Yongjun proposed a lump-sum compensation agreement for a payment of 76,000 yuan. Although Li’s wife never saw, let alone signed any agreement when she went to the mine, the agreement and the money were later presented to her by one of Li’s colleagues.
The Compensation Agreement Concerning Comrade Li Jianguo’s Accidental Injury in our Enterprise, Hospital Treatment and Discharge from Hospital was signed by Du Yongjun but Li’s wife insists that neither she nor her husband ever signed the agreement. Articles 2 and 3 of the agreement stipulated that the company was not liable for any problems Li might have while convalescing at home after being discharged from hospital; the injured party was personally responsible for dealing with any after-effects of the accident, it said.
Li claimed that the mine owner never reported the accident to the authorities. Indeed, when Han Dongfang checked the websites of the State Administration of Work Safety, the Henan Work Safety Bureau and the Pingdingshan Work Safety Bureau, he found no reference to the incident.
Article 6 of the Procedure for Reporting Information and Managing Production Safety Accidents, which entered into effect on 1 July 2009, stipulates that within one hour of receiving news of an accident or a high-risk incident, the manager in charge of production must inform the county-level production safety supervision bureau and the coalmine supervision bureau of the accident or incident. Article 24 states that any production management unit and staff member guilty of delay, omission, misrepresentation or concealment of the facts in reporting a production safety accident shall be punished in accordance with the relevant regulations.
Six months after the accident, Li went to the Baofeng County Labour Bureau to obtain an official work-related injury appraisal. Li’s wife recalls that at the time, the labour bureau told them that a work-related injury appraisal could be issued, but that Li would first have to undergo medical treatment for an additional period of time so that his condition could be assessed. When Li went back a year later, the labour bureau told him that it was too late for a work-related injury appraisal.
I went to see the head of the labour bureau, Mr Zhang, to tell him the situation. He said that we had missed our opportunity to get a work-related injury appraisal and that the only solution for people in our situation was to sue the coalmine.
The lack of any initiative by the labour bureau and its lack of concern for Li’s plight are typical of the attitude of many local governments who simply ignore or deliberately put obstacles in the way of workers seeking compensation because they don’t want to or have no interest in antagonizing local business leaders. See CLB’s research report The Hard Road: Seeking justice for victims of pneumoconiosis in China for more details.
Employed for two years with no contract
Li Jianguo worked in a privately-owned mine in Baofeng county’s Daoying township. It had a total workforce of more than 300 miners divided into three shift teams. There were 40-50 miners in Li’s shift.
Li’s wife said her husband worked eight hours a day and earned between 2,500 yuan and 3,000 yuan a month.
They didn’t get weekends and holidays off. If you showed up for work, they paid you for one shift’s work. If you didn’t show up, you got no money. For Spring Festival, you just got two days off.
Although Li had worked at the mine for nearly two years, he had never signed an employment contract.
Li’s parents are over 70-years-old. He has two children: the eldest is 15 and quit school after the accident; the youngest is only five-years-old. With Li unable to provide for himself and with his wife at home looking after him and their children, the whole family depends on the financial support of relatives and friends to survive.
We always had to borrow money from other people and every time we did, we told the mine bosses about it.
Li’s wife eventually went to the mine and told the boss, “If you get my husband cured, you won’t have to pay us a penny.” But the only question she gets from the mine management is how much money she wants from them.
Han Dongfang’s interview with Li Jianguo and his wife was first broadcast in five episodes in March 2010. To read the full Chinese transcript or listen to the audio file of the broadcast please go to the workers’ voices section of our Chinese language website and follow the links.