Premier Li Keqiang talks with Zhang Zhiqiang, a coal miner, at Zhang's home in Changzhi, Shanxi province, as Zhang's daughter holds his arm. Zhang was relocated to another mine after the place he used to work was closed amid the country's push to cut overcapacity. (LIU ZHEN/CHINA NEWS SERVICE)
Coal mines that are closed during China's push to cut overcapacity should transform their old economic drivers and offer better assistance to miners needing job relocation, Premier Li Keqiang said on Monday.
Li made the call on Monday morning while visiting a coal mine in Changzhi, Shanxi province. The mine, Shigejie, which has operated for more than 90 years and was among China's largest coal producers during the 1960s, halted operations last year due to the low-quality coal it produced and its outdated operational facilities.
In 2016, all 2,816 employees at Shigejie were helped to find new jobs.
The closure was part of the 23.25 million metric tons of annual coal capacity Shanxi phased out last year－the largest cuts across China.
"The mines we phased out were outdated ones, but it does not mean our workforce is outdated. They will improve their skills through training," Li said.
In January 2016, Li paid a visit to the Guandi coal mine in Taiyuan, Shanxi, right after the Central Economic Work Conference in December 2015 that vowed the country would cut industrial capacity, especially in iron, steel and coal.
Most of the employees laid off at Shigejie now work at two coal mines affiliated to the Lu An Coal Mine Group, while others found work in nearby service sectors.
Zhang Zhiqiang, a 32-year-old miner, told Li that coal prices had been low in recent years, and the coal Shigejie produced was of low quality because of its high sulfur content.
"Coal mine workers have made an important contribution to China's economic development over the past decades. While working deep in the dark underground, you've lit the way for the country," Li said as he stood in front of hundreds of miners before leaving Shigejie.
"As China cuts excess capacity, the government will try mightily to ensure that you will be given new jobs and will not be left without an income."
The Government Work Report delivered by Li in March stated that China would continue to cut overcapacity in bloated sectors, with targets this year to slash steel production capacity by around 50 million tons and coal by at least 150 million tons.