Thousands of Chinese miners who say they have not been paid for months staged a rare protest in a northeastern city, days after the provincial governor made the apparently false claim that no miner working for the province's largest publicly owned mining company was owed any back wages.
Angry miners from Longmay Mining Holding Group Co. Ltd. and their family members marched through the city of Shuangyashan on Saturday and gathered in front of the company's local offices.
In response, the government of Heilongjiang province issued a statement Saturday night acknowledging that many Longmay employees are owed wages and benefits, backtracking from Governor Lu Hao's assertions earlier this month.
The protest and the change in the government's stance underline the sensitivity of the employment issue, as Chinese miners and others in state industries are losing their jobs or seeing their pay drastically cut. China's massive state-owned mining companies are struggling to boost efficiency and reduce their payrolls amid a severe slump in coal demand brought on by sharply slowing economic growth.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has told the annual legislature, which convenes in Beijing this week, that 100 billion yuan ($15 billion) has been set aside, primarily to assist workers who should be diverted from industries such as coal and steel, reducing their capacities.
The pain is particularly acute in China's northeastern rustbelt, where Heilongjiang is located. Its biggest state-owned mining company, Longmay, reduced its work force by 22,500 people recently, according to state media reports.
Longmay reportedly owed 800 million yuan ($123 million) in back pay for 2014. A lengthy investigative article by China's leading financial news group, Caijing, reported in January that pay for Longmay workers has been continually cut, and even those reduced wages had not been paid for three to four months.