SHUANGYASHAN, CHINA – After protests by unpaid coal miners made headlines around the world last year as China’s parliament was meeting, a $15 billion assistance fund offered by the ruling Communist Party became a symbol of the government’s need to ensure social stability.
As the National People’s Congress gathers again a year on, the number of protests has dropped sharply and authorities are promising to create more jobs for workers in China’s northeastern belt, where the employment outlook is more grim than in many other parts of the country.
China is pledging to cut further excess and inefficient capacity in its mining sector and “smokestack” industries this year as part of an effort to upgrade its economy and reduce pollution, but the move threatens to throw millions more out of work.
Dozens of coal miners and laid-off workers in Shuangyashan, in northeastern Heilongjiang Province near Russia, said they were underemployed and underpaid, sometimes earning only a fifth of what they used to, despite rising living costs.
They said a heavy police presence was discouraging further mass protests. “Security has become much tighter since last year’s protests, the police are everywhere, watching everything,” said Li, 53, who works at the nearby Dongbaowei coal mine.
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