The research report on Chinese mineworkers: systematic factors that lead to insufficient protection on pneumoconiosis workers
In China, more than 50% of the pneumoconiosis patients are miners. The internet source indicates that the deaths from pneumoconiosis were double of that from mine disasters. To understand more about the working conditions of mining workers in China, the research team, from 24 July to 2 August, 2019, undertook an online survey via Lingxi and spread the questionnaire through WeChat with a random sampling of the miners from different areas. This report is based on the 101 valid responses collected in the survey.
Basic information
1. Geographical distribution: based on the IP address of the respondents, the interviewees are widely located in 33 districts of 14 provinces or municipalities in China. The respondents in Henan are the biggest group (39.4%), and those in Shanxi and Sichuan come second (17.4%) and third (11.6%) respectively.
2. Gender distribution: all interviewees are male. This situation is consistent with the male-dominated feature of the mining industry.
Data analysis
Part one: data analysis of mining workers' rights issues
In China, according to the relevant policies and regulations, the labour rights protection system includes the following:
1. In the organizational level, it includes employers, labour department and its operation units, and labour union.
2. In the institutional level, it covers the labour-related regulations as well as policies and judicial interpretations concerned
3. Labour relations: the documents to ensure labour rights protection, including labour contracts and the documents which can prove the labour relations and identify the legal rights and obligations of the parties concerned in the labour relations. Labour relation is crucial and indispensable in labour rights protection.
Based on the data collected, the research team undertakes a careful study on the interactions and correlations among employers, government departments, the concerned regulations and labour relation.
A. Basic data
1. Employers, the first agent in the organizational level
a. Nearly 90% of the employers did not sign labour contracts with their miners.
In this survey, only 12% of the interviewees signed labour contracts or collective contracts with their employers. Legally, labour contract is the most direct and effective way to prove the labour relation between a worker and an employer. Also, it is the legal duty of an employer to sign labour contract with his/her employee(s). 88% of the miners did not sign valid labour contracts with their employers. It would result in significant troubles in identifying both the labour relation and the agreed rights and obligations of both employer and employee. 
b. In our survey, only 19.6% of the employers purchased social insurance for their employees and 74.5% of the miners were not protected by any insurance scheme. 
From the responses, only 19.6% of the mining workers joined the social insurance scheme. Under the current system and regulations in China, social insurance is the predominant social support for workers when occupational injuries, including occupational diseases, occur. Nearly 80% of the miners enjoyed no social insurance. Once occupational injuries occurred, workers would be exposed to the severe risk of loss of effective protection.
c. 80% of the employers did not provide personal protective goods to workers. Lack of protective measures is a serious problem.
Only 21% of the interviewees gave positive responses when being asked whether the employers had provided personal protective goods at work. Among the miners who were offered personal protective goods, 61.9% received masks, but 30% of the employers who provided masks to worker charged back the workers for the masks. So the masked became self-funded by workers.
d. More than half of the miners worked overtime without overtime compensation. 
61% of the respondents “worked over eight hours per day” or “worked irregularly”. It meant that workers worked overtime regularly or occasionally (see Table 1). Among the 61% of the respondents (61 persons), 52 workers (85.2% of the 61 persons) received no overtime compensation. Referring this ratio to the whole interviewees in this survey, it is estimated that 51% of the workers worked overtime without overtime compensation.
Table 1: How many hours do you work a day?



Less than 8 hours


More than 8 hours




e. Cash was the main form of wage payment. Only 10% of the employers used bank transfer solely to pay the mining workers.
Table 2: What is the main form of your wage payment?

Payment options




Bank transfer


Cash and bank transfer


2. External monitoring organizations: Labour monitoring department and environmental protection department
a. As a highly risky industry, less than half of the mining firms underwent the government safety examination on their mines. Around 25% of the mining firms were fined by the safety monitoring department.
32 interviewees did not know whether the safety monitoring department had checked their mines. Among the rest, 43% workers noticed that the safety monitoring department had checked their mines. Excluding the workers who were uncertain about the safety check, about 25% of the resting interviewees said that their mining firms had been fined by the safety monitoring department.
b. This survey shows the poor monitoring of the environmental protection department. About 12% of the mining firms were fined by the environmental protection department.
When being asked about "whether any official from the environmental protection department examined the working environment on your mine", only around 10% of the interviewees gave positive responses confidently. The responses reflected the insufficient monitoring of the environmental protection department on the mining industry.
Table 3: Whether any official from the environmental protection department examined the working environment on your mine?







I don’t know




43 interviewees gave definite responses to the question "whether the environmental protection department charged penalties on your employer", and 12% among them responded with "definitely yes".
3. Institutional protection: knowledge of the labour protection regulations
Table 4 shows that only 16% to 23% of the interviewees knew the three essential labour rights regulations: Labour Contract Law, Law on the Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases and Work Safety Law. Lack of knowledge about the relevant provisions would highly possibly result in the failures of the institutional protection of labour rights, especially of the rights of the workers in highly risky industries. 
Table 4: Do you know the following laws?



Law on the Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases

Yes: 16

No: 84

Work Safety Law

Yes: 23

No: 77

Labour Contract Law

Yes: 17

No: 83

4. Pneumoconiosis patients among mining workers and the handlings of their employers
a. Mining workers are the high-risk group among pneumoconiosis patients.
From the survey responses, 78 interviewees gave definite answers, “yes” or “no”, to the question, "Are there any confirmed pneumoconiosis patients in your mine?" and 23 workers replied, “don’t know”. Among the 78 workers who gave definite answers, 77 (about 99%) said “yes”, and 1 (about 1%), “no”.
b. Mining workers suffering from pneumoconiosis usually received no protection.
Among the said 77 workers who replied “yes” to the question, "Are there any confirmed pneumoconiosis patients in your mine?", 66 workers answered an open-ended question, “What do your enterprise do for the pneumoconiosis workers”. The answers are summarized in Table 5.
Table 5: Employers’ actions for the pneumoconiosis patients






Fire the patient(s)


Fire the patient(s) after a small amount of compensation


Discontinue the production


Close the firm and deny the labour relation with the pneumoconiosis workers


No action


Sick leave

and retirement



Concealed by

the workers

The workers decide not to report their diseases and continue working



Such as lung lavage or loss of work capacities


Don’t know



Only 1.5% of the miners in this survey reported that the pneumoconiosis workers received "sickness leave or retirement", but 80.3% faced negative or no actions by their employers.
B. Correlational analyses
The mining industry is a high-risk industry with the danger of dust, collapse and explosion. Enterprises, the administrative institutions and the provisions concerned should provide strict and comprehensive management and monitoring on labour protection, safety measures and environmental protection. Based on the data collected in this survey and the frequent occurring of pneumoconiosis in the mining industry, the research team makes its correlation analyses as follows. 
a. Pneumoconiosis is especially serious in the mining industry. Enterprises should be held accountable for their inadequate safety measures and the external monitoring institutions, accountable for their ineffective monitoring.
In the survey, 79% of the interviewees claimed that their employers had not provided workers personal protective goods. The safety monitoring department and the environmental protection department examined 47% and 10% of the mining firms, respectively. The examination rate is significantly low because of the frequent occurring of occupational injuries/diseases in the mining industry. Moreover, 99% of the interviewees reported that workers contracting pneumoconiosis had been in their mines. It is grounded to raise questions about the insufficiency of the safety measures and the effectiveness of the external monitoring.
b. Structural factors: pneumoconiosis miners suffer from ineffective protection
1. Enterprises: no contract, no social securities and no care of pneumoconiosis
88% of the interviewees did not sign labour contracts with their employers, and 80% of them had no social insurances protection. In the face of pneumoconiosis, 80.3% of the interviewees complained about the passive or no actions of the enterprises, and 21.2% attributed the reasons of the passive or no actions of the enterprises to the following reasons, “Unable to identify the labour relations” or “Enterprises’ rejection to recognize the labour relations”. Difficulties in labour relation identification, the prerequisite for labour rights protection of workers, has caused significant hurdles to mining workers in fighting for labour rights protection.
2. Legal protection of mining workers exists in name only. Workers do not know, understand and use the regulations.
Only 16-23% of the interviewees knew about the three essential laws in protecting their labour rights, Labour Contract Law, Law on the Prevention and Control of Occupational Diseases and Work Safety Law. The legal protection, no matter how good it is, is still a lip service if workers has no knowledge about of the regulations.
3. Poor labour relation identification and legal illiteracy of mining workers made the labour protection department incapable in protecting workers.
Lack of knowledge of legal protection of mining workers causes further difficulty in identification of labour relation. Lack of either one, workers’ knowledge of legal protection and identification of labour relation, makes the labour protection department incapable in protecting workers’ rights.
“The Age of Great Harmony[1]” states,
When the great way prevails, the world community is equally shared by all. The worthy and able are chosen as office holders. Mutual confidence is fostered and good neighbourliness cultivated. Therefore, people do not regard only their own parents as parents, nor do they treat only their own children as children. Provision is made for the aged till their death, the adults are given employment, and the young enabled to grow up. Widows and widowers, orphans, the old and childless as well as the sick and disabled are all well taken care of…….
But for numerous mining workers, after their labourings, they begin to live without provision and their sicknesses are not taken care well. This is mainly caused by indifference of the socielty.
Part 2: Labour structure in the mining industry
A. Gender
35.6% of the interviewees shared that their mining enterprises employed female workers. They mainly work for driving hoisters and winches, operating lamps and logistic support. 
B. Work duties 
Table 6: Work duties



Work underground


Work on the surface




C. Work experience
More than 80% of the interviewees had worked for two or more mines. Around 57.8% had worked for five or more mines.
Table 7: How many mines do you work for?

No. of Mines










More than 5


D. Underaged workers
In the survey, 68 interviewees gave definite answer, “yes” or “no” to the question of the underage workers. Among the 68 interviewees, 43% claimed that there were workers under 18 years old in their firms. The young workers mostly operated hoisters or cut coals. 
Part 3: Reflections and Recommendations
The Mine Safety Law of The People's Republic of China was issued on 1 May 1993. It lists out clear regulations on the mine safety protection. However, the employment structure changed along with the continuous economic changes in China. Most miners have shifted from employees of state-owned enterprises to contract workers or temporary staff. The Mine Safety Law becomes insufficient in protecting miners.
The Labour Contract Law of the People's Republic of China was issued in 2012. It aims to protect both employers and employees in the increasingly conflicting labour relations. In this survey, less than 20% of the interviewees signed labour contracts with their enterprises. The enforcement of Labour Contract Law in the mining industry needs to be improved with more substantial government monitoring on signing labour contracts. It is to protect workers’ basic rights and to facilitate harmonious labour relation. 
Mines are mostly located in the remote areas. The remote location of mines does cause difficulties in monitoring. Therefore, the research team proposes the following recommendations:
1. Develop the mining workers registration system. It should be coordinated by the safety monitoring department in the city level by applying big data analysis.
2. The labour departments and the safety monitoring departments of different cities ensure that the mining firms, in the regions under their governance, sign labour contracts with at least 80% of their workers.
3. Based on the labour contracts, the city-level social insurance department ensure every year that the social insurances payments are settled on time 
4. The city-level labour department, safety monitoring department and social insurance department should conduct annual checks for mining workers.
5. The ccity-level healthcare department should impose the requirement that mining firms shall provide an annual health check for their workers. The examination reports shall be submitted to the safety monitoring department and accessible to workers in a specific data platform.
Mining products are the main source of energy in China, but the mining industry a highly risky industry. The safety in the mining industry is gradually improved under the strong leading by the Party’s central and the State Council, but the efforts are not yet revealed on the local level. The local governments have not yet materialized fully the safety protection of mining workers. 
[1] For the English translation, see here.
*This report was written by a labour organization in Guangdong province, and the author owns the copyright. It is prohibited to reprint this article without the author's permission.