Apology for unpaid coal miners in China's Heilongjiang

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A provincial governor in China has been forced to apologise to thousands of coal miners over unpaid wages. It comes after days of protests in the north-eastern coal town.

Thousands of miners marched through the streets of a coal town in Heilongjiang in north-eastern China over unpaid wages.

The protesters were employees at Shuangyashan Mine which is owned by the Longmay Group, the biggest state-owned coal mining group in the region. During the march they were said to have held up banners saying: “We want to live, we want to eat.”

The protesting Longmay workers were furious when provincial governor Lu Hao said Longway had never been late in paying workers, and "not a penny is overdue".

They called this "a big fat lie,” and responded by blocking the town's railway.

The incident's been a top-trending topic in social media, and Mr Lu subsequently apologised. According to local media, he's admitted he made a mistake and said Longmay will soon raise funds to repay its workers.

"You probably are going to see more protests of that sort at some point.”

Coal consumption for energy in China has fallen in recent years, dropping 3.7 per cent in 2015. Longmay has been in the red since 2012 and had been instructed to comply with Beijing’s order to cut industrial overcapacity.

Last year Longmay said it would cut its 248,000 headcount by as many as 100,000 workers.

China is expecting to lay off five to six million state workers over the next two to three years as part of efforts to curb industrial overcapacity and pollution. Analysts say the unrest in Heilongjiang could be a sign of more to come.

“Inevitably there will be layoffs and you probably are going to see more protests of that sort at some point,” says Robert Koepp, Beijing-based director of the Economist Corporate Unit.

Mr Koepp says the government will need to actively provide comprehensive support programs, in addition to funding, to prevent similar incidents happening in future.

“The government could head that off by throwing money at the problem and maybe keeping the zombie firms struggling along a little bit longer," says Koepp.

"But actually working on things like retraining, relocating workers to workers where they’re needed etc. We haven’t seen much in way of tangible details in that respect, but that would be a more positive step forward.” 

China’s northeastern industrial regions are set to be the hardest hit but the cuts. The government has promised to set up a 100 billion yuan fund to help laid-off workers.

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