A coal mine of Longmay Group in Heilongjiang province. Image: Jason Lee/Reuters
Thousands of Chinese coal miners marched through the streets of a mining town in northeastern China over the weekend protesting against unpaid wages, as China grapples with rising unemployment due to overcapacity in heavy industries. As China's economy slows, the government is trying to slash overcapacity in labor-intensive industries like coal and steel but this has prompted fears the country might face its fiercest unemployment pressures since the late 1990s.
The workers claim they are owed unpaid wages and some are angry that their pay has been cut to 800 yuan ($123.19) a month, from 1000 yuan, according to local media reports.
“Thousands of people have been protesting,” a witness said.
Chinese miners at the Longmay Fuli Mine change out of work clothes after a night shift, in Hegang, Heilongjiang Province, China. Image: timesunion
A statement posted on a Heilongjiang government website on Saturday night acknowledged some employees were owed wages but did not mention the protests.
A rapid collapse in the prices of oil and coal, two of Heilongjiang's major industries, and inefficiency and overmanning at state-owned enterprises have compounded problems for the province, Lu Hao, the governor of Heilongjiang, said at a session last week of China's annual parliament.
The protesters are employees at Shuangyashan Mine, owned by Longmay Group.
Longmay coal miners are reemployed locally and some will be transferred to farming, Lu said, adding that local state farms have cultivated additional land, while the local forest bureau has increased forest land to provide jobs.
Heilongjiang province. Image: BWPI
The firm said last year that it would adopt a "wartime work atmosphere" to cut its bloated 248,000 headcount by as much as 100,000. It has been making losses since 2012.
"It is most important that we have to train those transferred workers with new skills, create new market opportunities and encourage their willingness to run their own businesses," Lu said.
"They have expressed their willingness to learn new skills but some are not adaptable, which requires our local governments, party and enterprises to help them to learn new skills and find new job opportunities."
Sources said that China is expecting to lay off 5 million to 6 million state workers over the next two to three years as part of efforts to curb industrial overcapacity and pollution.