Cablegate: U.S. Dol Secretary Chao Attends Work Safety Forum

DE RUEHBJ #4330/01 3310020
O 260020Z NOV 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

1.(SBU) SUMMARY: Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao, visited Beijing
on Nov. 18, 2008, for the Fourth International Forum on Work Safety.
The Secretary encouraged the Chinese government to build on its
legal framework for occupational health and safety, by strengthening
supervision and education programs. In a private meeting, Chinese
officials admitted the difficulties of enforcing work safety
guidelines. They also outlined work safety objectives for the
problematic coal mining sector, including closing one-half of all
mines by 2010. SAWS has made similar pledges in the past, which it
has never fully honored. The Secretary's visit was widely covered
in the media and helped raise the profile of work safety issues.

2. (U) Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao attended the Opening
Ceremonies of the Fourth China International Forum on Work Safety on
Nov. 18, 2008. The biennial forum is sponsored by the State
Administration of Worker Safety (SAWS) to both learn from the best
practices of foreign countries in the areas of occupational health
and safety, and to present Chinese progress. This year's forum
included a separate trade show of work safety equipment. Secretary
Chao was a featured speaker at the Opening Ceremonies.

Work Safety Integral to China's Development Goals
--------------------------------------------- ----

3. (U) Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang opened the forum by stressing the
importance of workplace safety to the Chinese government. He noted
that the scientific development approach towards China's economy
must include both a legal framework and a supervisory system for
occupational health and safety. He emphasized that work safety is a
fundamental part of people's livelihood and thus must be an integral
part of the government's development goals.

U.S.: Over A Century of Workplace Safety Efforts
--------------------------------------------- ----

4. (U) Secretary Chao's address to the more than 400 conference
attendees stressed the United States' century-long effort to improve
workplace and mine safety - from the Mine Safety Act of 1891 to the
Mine Improvement and Emergency Response Act of 2006. She emphasized
the importance of enforcement of relevant laws, citing the 66
percent increase in the Mine Safety and Health Administration's
(MSHA) enforcement actions between 2000 and 2007. She added that a
comprehensive work safety program must as also include worker
education and training, and introduced the considerable education
and outreach programs operated by the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) and MSHA. Secretary Chao introduced OSHA's
Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) which allows companies to
establish workplace safety, health and injury standards which exceed
OSHA requirements. These VPP firms report injury and illness rates
50 percent the expected rate, and achieved annual savings of USD 230
million. Finally, the Secretary highlighted the cooperation between
DOL and the Chinese Government, noting that last year, OSHA and
MSHA's letters of understanding with their Chinese counterparts to
share best practices in workplace and mine safety were extended to

China: Legal Framework Set; But Enforcement Lacking
--------------------------------------------- ------

5. (U) The other guest speakers reiterated a common theme: that
China had made great progress in its legal framework to promote
occupational safety and health, but the state's inspection and
enforcement capabilities are still lacking. ILO Director General
Juan Somavia, in a recorded message, cautioned that work safety
should not become a casualty of the current financial crisis.
Australian Ambassador Geoff Raby strongly encouraged China to
consider work safety as a key part of economic development. Finnish
Minister for Social Affairs and Health, Liisa Hysalla, emphasized
that work safety was an integral and fundamental human rights

Evaluate Officials on Work Safety Results

6. (U) SAWS Acting Minister Zhao Tiechui closed the opening
ceremonies by sharing some of China's work safety achievements. He
noted that from 2002 to 2007, annual coal production jumped from 1.4
billion tons to 2.5 billion tons, while the total number of mining
fatalities dropped. He encouraged the Chinese state at all levels
to include work safety components in government officials'
evaluation criteria, in addition to traditional economic development
goals. He admitted that the broad geographic distribution of some
20,000 coal mines in China complicated SAWS efforts to enforce mine
safety guidelines. SAWS intends to work with the State Council to
ensure that the smallest and most poorly equipped mines are closed.
He said SAWS also intends to strengthen enforcement with a public
"blacklist" of enterprises and mines with poor safety records.

7. (SBU) Acting Minister Zhao hosted Secretary Chao to a lunch with
SAWS representatives following the opening ceremonies. He thanked

BEIJING 00004330 002 OF 002

the Secretary for her participation, which he said would certainly
raise the profile of this year's Work Safety Forum. He noted that
it was during her tenure that the letters of understanding with DOL
were signed and extended. Secretary Chao responded "it speaks
volumes that China hosts this event," and said she was happy to
offer her support. China had made great strides, she continued, but
it still needs a stronger system of enforcement combined with
employee and employer training programs.

New Safety Targets with Coal Mine Restructuring
--------------------------------------------- --

8. (SBU) Mr. Ji Guoyou, briefed the Secretary on recent coal mine
accidents. Just days earlier, a small mine in Henan flooded.
Thanks to advanced rescue methods, the Chinese had just learned 33
miners had been saved, although there was one fatality. He said the
mine typified the safety problems of small mines - defined as those
with production of less than 300,000 tons per annum and 30 to 200
employees. The Chinese intend to close many of these, and to
publicly blacklist those with poor safety records. By 2010, he
said, China will reduce the number of coal mines to 10,000, and to
keep coal production within 2.8 billion tons per annum. SAWS will
try to bring total fatalities to within 1 per million tons of coal
mined for the industry overall, and for key state-owned mines to 0.3
per million tons of coal. This will place China's coal mine safety
performance in the range of middle-developed countries, while the
largest mines will begin to reach developed country safety rates.

9. (SBU) SAWS Vice Minister Liang Jiakun described the State
Administration for Coal Mine Safety, which has 25 provincial
bureaus, 71 sub-bureaus, and some 3000 employees. However, it still
must oversee some 20,000 active coal mines, thus enforcement remains
difficult. VM Liang affirmed his respect for the U.S. system where
once a law is passed, it is generally followed. Secretary Chao
explained the U.S. system had its own issues. The open, transparent
regulatory process is time consuming: once a law is passed, the
Department must draft regulations, submit them for public comment,
redraft, and finally implement them. But the result of such
transparency is that workers and employers are well aware of laws
once they are implemented, and thus they are generally law abiding.

No More Free Lunches for Chinese Mine Inspectors
--------------------------------------------- ---

10. (SBU) SAWS Vice Minister Zhao Anqing thanked the Secretary for
the exchanges she has facilitated for various SAWS members to visit
the U.S. over the past years. He noted such trips never failed to
offer practical lessons. During a visit with a mine inspector in
Colorado, he was shocked to learn the man was 70 years old. In
China, an inspector would have to retire at age 60, whereas the U.S.
system chose to value the inspector's experience. He also learned
that mine inspectors were not able to accept meals from the mining
companies that they inspect. He realized this was a huge cultural
difference. Yet inspired by the U.S. example, on his return, SAWS
implemented the same requirement for its own inspectors, who now
must buy their own meals.

11. (SBU) Following the SAWS Work Safety Forum, the Secretary made a
speech to 500 enthusiastic students at Tsinghua University, China's
leading engineering and sciences school. Students asked diverse
questions about the state of the U.S. economy and how to how to
overcome gender or minority discrimination in the workplace. The
Secretary encouraged them to have confidence in their contribution
and to maintain a positive attitude.

12. (SBU) COMMENT: The Secretary's speech at the Work Safety Forum
was widely covered in the Chinese press, and clearly helped raise
the profile of the Forum in Chinese media. While Chinese officials
expressed admiration for the enforcement mechanisms of foreign
countries, they did not elaborate much on their own initiatives. It
was not clear whether the enterprise "blacklist" would include other
punitive measures, such as fines or temporary closures. SAWS has
made repeated pledges over the past several years to close small,
dangerous mines which it has not been able to fully honor. It was
not clear that this most recent pledge on closures would be any
different. END COMMENT.

13. (U) This cable was cleared by the Secretary's delegation.

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