Friday, November 04, 2011

"You'll Be Fired If You Refuse"

Chinese-run copper mines in Zambia are dangerously unsafe and owners routinely flout the rights of workers, says a report by Human Rights Watch. Chinese mines were worse than at other foreign-owned mines. Pay at the Chinese-run mines was higher than Zambia's minimum wage, but much lower than that paid by other multinational copper mining firms. Also miners are threatened with dismissal if they became involved in union activities.

"Sometimes when you find yourself in a dangerous position, they tell you to go ahead with the work," one miner told HRW. "They just consider production, not safety. If someone dies, he can be replaced tomorrow. And if you report the problem, you'll lose your job."

Miners had to work 12-hour shifts often in fume-filled tunnels. Sometimes shifts were 18 hours long. Zambian law limits shifts to eight hours. Miners in Chinese-run companies have been subject to abusive health, safety and labour conditions and longtime Zambian government indifference.

Many of the poor safety practices in Zambia's Chinese-run mines were strikingly similar to abuses at mines in China. Currently dozens of miners have been trapped in a coal mine in China. Four miners were killed and 50 more are missing after the accident, which happened late on Thursday in the city of Sanmenxia in Henan province.

Hundreds of Chinese miners die every year in pit accidents. The industry is one of the most dangerous in the world, and is notorious for its lax safety standards. Earlier this week a gas explosion at a mine in neighbouring Hunan province killed 29 people.

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