A week after the deadly disaster at Sunjiawan coal mine in Fuxin City, Liaoning Province, during the Lunar New Year holidays, controversy emerged over how much compensation the mining company had agreed to pay to the dead victims' families.
Local residents informed China Labour Bulletin that the mining company had initially announced that it would give each bereaved family 200,000 Yuan in compensation. However, they had now learned that each family would receive only 80,000 Yuan in compensation from the company, while the remaining 120,000 Yuan would have to be raised via local community donations.
The gas explosion occurred at Sunjiawan colliery at about 3 PM on 14 February. The final death toll was 214 miners killed and 30 others injured, according to an official Xinhua news agency report. Altogether 330 out of 574 miners working at the time managed to escape, but 244 others were trapped underground in the mine shaft. The appalling death toll made this the worst reported workplace accident in China since 1949.
A retired miner from the Sunjiawan colliery said the maximum compensation given to each victim's family in the past was 60,000 Yuan. He said that the Fuxin Coal Industry Group had initially pledged to give 200,000 Yuan to each bereaved family, but it later emerged that the company in fact would only be giving each family 80,000 Yuan and the remaining 120,000 Yuan would have to come from community donations.
He added that since the compensation package was directly arranged by the State Council, the dead miners' families would be unable to challenge it if they were not satisfied with the amount offered. "They told the families that if they don't sign the compensation agreement by 23 April, they won’t get anything."
A representative of the official trade union (ACFTU) of Fuxin Coal Industry Group, when interviewed by CLB, said he was "not sure about the details of the compensation arrangements" for the bereaved families. So far, according to a Xinhua report of 18 February, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions has donated 1 million Yuan, while the Liaoning provincial government has contributed 200,000 Yuan to the community bereavement fund. This works out at only 5,600 Yuan for each bereaved family.
One local resident said that both of her neighbour's brothers had died in the Sunjiawan mining disaster. Another said that his nephew, also killed in the accident, was survived by a sick daughter but the mining company was refusing to pay even a part of the child’s medical expenses. He added that although the dead miner's family was far from satisfied with the company's compensation offer, they had no option but to sign it because of threats and intimidation from company officials.
According to a Xinhua report, as of 21 February the families of 179 miners killed in the Sunjiawan colliery disaster had signed the company's compensation offer and 49 of the families had already received payments.
The Sunjiawan colliery consists of two coal mines and employs some 3,100 workers. The Haizhou coal mine, where the disaster took place, is said to produce around 1.5 million tons of coal each year.
Only one day after the Sunjiawan disaster, on 15 February, another gas explosion occurred at an illegal coalmine at Songlin village in Fuyuan county, Yunnan Province, killing 27 miners and injuring 14 others.
Sources: China Labour Bulletin, Xinhua News Agency
9 March 2005