Labor Dept. Gives Millions to Improve China's Mine Safety

Karl Marx and American cold warriors may be rolling in their graves, but the U.S. taxpayer is spending $6.4 million in grant money to improve workers' rights in the People's Republic of China.

"The administration is committed to improving workers' rights globally," said Cameron Findlay, deputy secretary of labor soon after the announcement was made public last week (Oct. 10). "We look forward to working with our partners in China to enhance the rule of law and improve compliance with internationally recognized workers' rights and labor standards."

The National Safety Council won one of the competitively awarded grants, $2.3 million to improve safety and health conditions in Chinese coal mines, which have one of the highest accident rates in the world.

Another $4.1 million grant was awarded to a consortium of organizations that will conduct a series of educational activities to help the Chinese government implement internationally recognized workers rights, promote greater awareness of labor law among Chinese workers and employers, and improve legal aid services to women and migrant workers.

Why would the U.S. taxpayer have an interest in spending money to improve mine safety and workers' rights in Communist China?

"Since the end of World War II, it has been the foreign policy of the United States in general to provide international technical assistance," explained Bob Zachariasiewicz, director of public affairs at the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, which is part of the Department of Labor.

More specifically, when the United States established normal trade relations with China, the law had provisions for giving technical assistance related to the protection of internationally recognized worker rights in the People's Republic of China. Worker health and safety is one such right.

From a more economic or political perspective, improving worker health and safety can help build a "more level playing field," according to Zachariasiewicz. Critics of globalization have argued that hazardous U.S. jobs are being lost to nations with weaker worker protections. Ironically, one such country appears to be Communist China, one of the few remaining "workers' paradises."

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