HEGANG, China — In the dank shower room where the miners soak, the coal dust from their bodies staining the water chocolate, a lone worker sat smoking a cigarette, staring at the floor.
He lingered, he explained, because since his pay had been cut in half, he had been eating dinner at his parents’ apartment, and he dreaded the humiliation of going there again.
“If any of the leaders would do their job properly, the situation would not be like this,” said the worker, Mr. Guo, 39. “If they want to sack me, they should just do it. Can it get any worse?” It probably will.
The mine’s owner, the Longmay Group, the biggest coal company in northeastern China, announced in September that it planned to lay off 100,000 workers. The elimination of about 40 percent of the work force at 42 mines in four cities is the biggest reduction in jobs that anyone could recall in this steadily declining rust belt near the Russian border.
China has managed mass layoffs at creaky, state-owned businesses like Longmay before, averting the threat of strikes and unrest by suppressing protests and offering payouts and job training.
But that was when the economy was booming and could readily absorb displaced workers. The test the government now faces in this depressed coal town and in other hard-hit areas across the country is whether it can head off labor discontent in a slowing economy.
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