September 15, 2016

Tensions rise as clans of raw jadestone seekers rush to Kani township

Seekers search jade at the mountain of soil dumped by mining companies in Kani township.
Seekers search jade at the mountain of soil dumped by mining companies in Kani township.

RAW jadestone seekers are flocking to the Nam Shi Pon jade mine in Kani township, it has been learned, resulting in rising tensions among scavenging groups on the site and mining companies.
Eight companies are currently operating on the site of the Nam Shi Pon jade mine. Fights began to break out between groups of raw jadestone seekers between each other and the mining companies when the number of such workers onsite reached 800 back in May. Bamboo fences were reportedly erected to keep the number of jadestone seekers on the site from rising further. However, these efforts have not stemmed the number of arrivals.
“The jadestone seekers have started to throw stones at the vehicles of mining companies. We have informed the matter to regional authorities. The regional authorities responded that since the site is not a fixed living space it is technically difficult to take action against them.” Said U Chin, managing director of a jade digging company at the site.
Raw jadestone seeking is the high risk, find-and-claim job of sorting through piles of mining rubble for valuable jade pieces overlooked by large scale operations and turning them over to mining companies for reward (the only form of payment). Raw jadestone seekers, among other undocumented mine workers, have been described by some experts as the least legally protected or represented worker groups in the country. The extremely dangerous working conditions of the job made headlines in November last year when tall mounds of mining rubble collapsed on the makeshift homes of jadestone seekers in Hpakant, Kachin State, claiming the lives of 116 workers and their family members.
The unregulated nature of the work along with repeated accusations of widespread worker abuse, flagrant disregard for the safety and livelihoods of workers and their families and the inherent danger of needing to find (or fight for) jadestone to provide food for one’s family has cast a long shadow over the jade mining industry.
U Thein Sein’s government, following the accident in Hpakant, hastily sent out regulatory officers to check that mining companies were not piling their mine rubble dangerously high – an endeavor that produced some positive results but ultimately did very little to raise the living standards or provide security to raw jadestone seekers. Raw jadestone seekers have been working at the Nam Shi Pon jade mine since around 1990. The migration of unskilled workers from other parts of the country to the mine is seen as a likely reason for the swelling population.


Aung Thant Khine


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