China to cut 500,000 steel and coal jobs this year

Beijing (AFP) - China said Wednesday it will cut 500,000 jobs in the steel and coal industries this year as it continues to trim excess capacity in the smokestack sectors amid a slowing economy.

Minister of Human Resources Yin Weimin, in announcing the cuts at a press conference in Beijing, said the laid-off workers will enter a job placement programme or be offered early retirement.

China makes more than half the world's steel, but an economic slowdown and sagging global demand has left the industry with massive overcapacity.

The government last year announced plans to eliminate a total of 1.8 million steel and coal jobs. It cut about 726,000 such positions in 2016.

"The whole process was smooth and orderly," Yin said of last year's cuts.

"There were no major conflicts or issues."

Efforts to trim China's industrial workforce have however, provoked some protests in the past by workers.

Last April hundreds of steelworkers protested after losing their jobs in northern Hebei province.

Previous bouts of unemployment in China have been cushioned by a large agricultural sector to which migrant workers can return, but breakneck urbanisation has swallowed swathes of farmland over the last decade.

Beijing has said it wants to reorient the economy away from relying on debt-fuelled investment and towards a consumer-driven model while slimming down the industrial sector, but the transition has proven challenging.

The economy grew by 6.7 percent last year -- the slowest rate in a quarter of a century.