THE Sunday Morning Post has gained a rare peek into China's mining industry which reveals that women are employed to work underground, contrary to official statements that only men should do the job. In a visit to a state-owned colliery in northern Guangxi, we discovered that nearly a third of the employees were women, with some working at the coal face. Others were shovelling coal on to trains while carrying babies strapped to their backs. ''I earn 60 yuan [HK$55] a month, the same as my husband who also works here. It's a very hard job. I don't want my children to follow us. So we work hard to earn money for their school fees,'' said Lu Jingjiu, 45, who has three children. In February, nearly 2,000 mines in northeastern China were closed amid growing concern about fatal accidents. According to mainland newspapers, the authorities said women would no longer be employed underground. At the same time, they said, inadequately trained technical staff and officials who did not understand mining would be replaced. But Lin Shanliang, who has spent 35 of his 50 years working in the mines, said it was common to work with women. ''Most of the accidents happened underground. They were things such as the sudden collapse of tunnels, improperly-conducted dynamite explosions and the leakage of poisonous gases,'' he said. ''Those who died were usually youngsters who had just finished school and could not find jobs elsewhere. ''Their lack of experience jeopardises their lives. I have never been caught in a serious accident, but I've witnessed a lot of tragedies,'' Mr Lin said. ''There's no specific training for the newcomers. The management just gives them the tools and ask them to follow us.'' A spokesman from the Coal Ministry's Policy and Regulation Bureau on women and child labour said there were no regulations banning women from working in mines. ''Of course, they do not do any heavy work but often perform tasks such as sending meals to the miners underground,'' he said. ''And only those over the age of 16 are allowed to work in the mines.'' There have been at least 71 coal mining deaths in China so far this year, the most serious accident being an explosion which killed 31 people at the Youyi coal mine in Guizhou province on July 30. According to official statistics, nearly 600 people died in the mining industry in the first half of this year, 47 per cent more than in the same period last year.