Beijing, Mar 15: Thousands of Chinese coal miners resorted to rare demonstrations in the country's northeastern mining town against unpaid wages amid fears of layoff as China plans painful restructuring of its heavy industries following economic slowdown.
Thousands of miners owed pay and worried about their job security have been protesting in Heilongjiang province for several days, reflecting the challenges Beijing faces as it tries to streamline the economy and reduce overcapacity, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported today.
Miners in Shuangyashan, a city in Heilongjiang province on the Russian border, had been demonstrating throughout the weekend, chanting "workers need food" and "down withcorrupt criminals", according to videos posted online.
Security officers were out in force yesterday and one shop owner said fewer miners were on the streets, the report said. Public demonstrations are banned in China.
The Heilongjiang Longmay Mining Holding Group which is owned by the provincial government is the source of livelihood for 224,000 people but has little chance of turning a profit.
To stay afloat, the provincial government has been pleading with banks to provide credit. The local government planned to dismiss 50,000 workers in the coming two to three years, the report said.
A similar demonstration took place in Shanxi province to the south a few days earlier, according to accounts posted on social media.
Workers at Tonghua Iron and Steel in Jilin also staged a protest demanding overduesalary. In Shuangyashan, the provincial government issued a statement vowing to "strike firmly" against unrest, such as "blocking state railway lines, disrupting production activities, organising joint actions and picking quarrels".
Bogged down with falling demand for coal and steel, China's leadership has announced last month that about 1.8 million coal and steel workers would probably lose their jobs as it tackled industrial overcapacity and shuttered bloated state-owned firms.
Media reports also quoted officials as saying that about five to six million workers may loose their jobs in the painful restructuring.
The government has set up a USD 15 billion fund to rehabilitate the retrenched workers and it was expected to become operational later this year.
"Provinces where heavy industry and mining are such a large share of the economy at the moment will be challenged in the coming years," Louis Kuijs, chief Asia economist for Oxford Economics in Hong Kong told the Post. China set the GDP growth target for this year at 6.5 to seven per cent.