China coal firm quells protests, pays out wages

A man shoveling coal for domestic use in a village in Fangshan on March 4, 2016.
A man shoveling coal for domestic use in a village in Fangshan on March 4, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

SHUANGYASHAN, CHINA (REUTERS) - A protest by thousands of state coal mine workers in a depressed part of north-eastern China has ended, with locals saying authorities agreed to pay the labourers two months' salary if they called off the demonstration.

The speedy end to a protest that erupted on Saturday in the city of Shuangyashan underscored the government's sensitivity to labour unrest, as it embarks on plans to restructure state-owned industries that involve laying off 5-6 million workers.

Thousands of coal miners employed by Longmay Group-owned Shuangyashan Mine had marched through the city's streets holding up banners saying: "We want to live, we want to eat," according to photographs posted on social media.

Police cars and patrolmen were still at the site of the demonstration on Tuesday, but shopkeepers nearby said the crowd dispersed quickly after the Shuangyashan city government offered them money.

"Now that they've given out two months of salaries, the workers have stopped stirring up trouble," said a worker in a nearby district who said he was employed by Dongrongsan Mine, part of Shuangyashan Mine.

"It shows that all workers want is stable pay," he added, declining to be named for fear of reprisal from the authorities.

Another Longmay worker said on Monday that he had been notified of the payout.

According to state-run Global Times, the protests were sparked by comments made last week by the Heilongjiang governor, Lu Hao, who said the largest coal mining group in the province, Longmay Group, had not withheld salaries despite suffering heavy financial losses.

Lu apologised on Saturday and conceded that the company still owed wages, the newspaper added.

Government officials at the Shuangyashan foreign affairs bureau told Reuters reporters that they were not allowed to report without permission and escorted them out of town on Tuesday.

An officer at the Shuangyashan police station said she was not clear about the situation and referred questions to the propaganda office. A call to the police propaganda office went unanswered.

Shuangyashan Mine's propaganda department, the Shuangyashan communist party office propaganda department and the city's department of human resources and social security did not answer calls made outside office hours.

Longmay Group, owned by the provincial government, has been making losses since 2012 and said last year that it would adopt a "wartime work atmosphere" to cut its bloated 248,000 headcount by as much as 100,000.

"We don't understand these things," said the Dongrongsan mine employee, when asked about Longmay's restructuring plans."We're just workers and peasants. What we care about is filling our stomachs and having warm clothes."