Fatal clash over $80 a month mining wage strains Zambia China relations

FT.com reports  a Chinese supervisor died on Saturday after being hit by a trolley pushed at him at the Collum mine in Zambia during a dispute over minimum wages.

The Chinese embassy in Lusaka said two other Chinese nationals were slightly injured in the incident in Zambia's southern province.

According to China Daily Zambia's government recently decreed a substantial increase of the minimum wage for mine workers to about $200 (1 million kwacha) a month, but according to the South African Broadcasting Corporation miners at Collum are paid a minimum salary of only $80.

Two years ago Chinese supervisors wounded 13 local workers with shotguns in another pay dispute at the coal mine which produces some 100,000 tonnes a year. Chinese investment in Zambia has long been an issue in the African nation.

The UK's Telegraph reports if a similar incident to the October 2010 shooting at Collum were to occur at a mine operated by the likes of Rio Tinto or Anglo American there would be a popular outcry that would send the their share prices tumbling, but nothing of the sort happend after this incident:

The Chinese argued they were acting in self defence, and Beijing made clear that should charges be pressed against them, bilateral relations would suffer. Zambia, unable to stand up to its biggest foreign investor, duly caved in: no criminal case was ever brought against the managers.

The latest incident would add further pressure on president Michael Sata who took office on the promise of improving mining conditions and a bigger share of mining profits for Zambians following protests at Chinese-owned copper mines and a brief ban on metal exports to sort out revenue collection in Africa’s top copper producer.

Sata at times also employed fierce anti-Chinese rhetoric while in opposition and his first meeting since taking office last year was with the Chinese ambassador to dispel fears over shifts in investment policy. Chinese investment in Zambia reached $2.4 billion in 2011 equal to roughly 20% of the southern African nation's GDP.

Chinese-run copper mines in Zambia are routinely mistreating workers and breaking the law by imposing up to 18-hour shifts and flouting international health and safety standards, according to a Human Rights Watch November 2011 report, "'You'll Be Fired if You Refuse': Labor Abuses in Zambia's Chinese State-owned Copper Mines".