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March 14, 2016

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Governor ‘wrong’ on miners wages

THE governor of northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province yesterday admitted making a mistake in asserting last week that thousands of miners had been paid despite their claims to the contrary.

The official’s U-turn came a day after workers from Longmay Mining Holding Group Co — the province’s largest publicly owned mining company — took to the streets of Shuangyashan in protest at not being paid for several months.

“I made a mistake about the earlier claim, because I received the wrong report,” Governor Lu Hao was quoted as saying by news website

“No matter who made the mistake, wrong is wrong, we have to correct it,” he said.

On Saturday, thousands of miners from Longmay and their families marched through Shuangyashan before gathering in front of the company’s local offices.

While the provincial government later issued a statement acknowledging that many of the employees were owed wages and benefits, it did not mention the comments made by Lu last week in Beijing.

On March 6, Lu said at the national legislature’s annual session in the capital that Longmay’s annual payroll was 10 billion yuan (US$1.54 billion), or about a third of the provincial government’s fiscal budget.

However, despite the challenges faced by the company, none of its 80,000 miners had received a wage cut, and all had been paid on time, he said.

China’s state-owned mining companies are struggling to boost efficiency and reduce their payrolls amid a severe slump in coal demand brought on by sharply slowing economic growth.

Premier Li Keqiang told the annual legislature, which is ongoing in Beijing, that 100 billion yuan has been set aside, primarily to assist workers who should be diverted from industries such as coal and steel, reducing their capacities.

The pain is particularly acute in China’s northeastern rustbelt, where Heilongjiang is located.

According to state media reports, its biggest state-owned mining company, Longmay, recently reduced its workforce by 22,500.

The company was also reported to have owed 800 million yuan in back pay for 2014.

An article by China’s leading financial news group, Caijing, reported in January that pay for Longmay workers had been continually cut, and that the reduced wages had not been paid for three to four months.

Saturday’s protest was peaceful and ended about 4pm. The government statement came out after 9pm, and said Lu had held a special meeting on the issue in Beijing that afternoon.

It made no mention of the protest in Shuangyashan, but said Longmay had failed to pay wages, taxes and insurance contributions. It said the provincial government would make every effort to pay the workers.

“Should important information be reported inaccurately again, it will be dealt with seriously,” it said.


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