OPERATOR CORNER: Moving up in the world
by Michele Travierso
Born and raised in Dehong, a town on the China-Myanmar border, Yu Wei Quan is a softly spoken 29-year-old machine operator at the Jinning phosphate mine near Kunming, Yunnan, a mountainous region in south-western China. The Jinning mine is one of four open-pit mines owned by the Yunnan Phosphate Chemical Group Company, itself a subsidiary of China’s state-owned Yunnan Yuntianhua Company Ltd (see Spirit Issue 59).
The mine sources the phosphate that China has needed to feed its population over the past three to four decades, it being a staple of modern sustainable agricultural techniques. Yu’s role is to move the ore and the broken pebbles from the top of the 2,450m-high mountain to a collection site at the bottom of the pit.
The border town where Yu comes from, some 900km away from the outskirts of Kunming where the mine is located, is well known in China as the epicenter of a thriving jade trade. Sourced and cut in the hills of Myanmar, jade has enjoyed a semi-holy status among the Chinese who use it for jewelry and ornamental sculptures.
“When I drove home during the last Chinese New Year, I went into Myanmar with my father,” says the amiable Yu. “I like to help him out with his business and, who knows, maybe one day I’ll run my own,” he adds with a smile. Getting to know jade “is a good hobby and can be a good business, too”.
However, although Yu is still undecided about his future, he is no novice at the mine. He has been with the Jinning phosphate mine for almost eight years now. In 2006, after a friend mentioned there were job opportunities at the mine for those able to follow training, he enrolled in a vocational school in Dali, a famous tourist destination in the region. “I knew that the mine’s HR department went there to hire recent graduates, so I decided to try my luck,” says Yu.
In July 2008, he was hired right out of school, where he learned to drive and repair heavy-duty vehicles. A few months earlier, the Jinning mine’s parent company had started to acquire Volvo articulated haulers, so he drove nothing but Volvo haulers. Purchasing decisions are made by the company with input from operators working at the mine, who opt for Volvo machines for reasons of efficiency and safety.
Familiar with the mine’s fleet of 40 Volvo A40 articulated haulers – a combination of D, E and F series – Yu speaks about each series with confident knowledge, but also affection. And he is not shy in pointing out his favorite either: “I like the F series the best!” he says enthusiastically. Asked why, he’s quick to praise the machine’s climbing power and comfortable cabin. Although the roads that connect the open-pit mine to the collection area are steep, the mine’s fully-loaded haulers maintain a brisk pace uphill.
Yu is also content with his working conditions. “The mine operates on three shifts,” he explains, “but even when we have seniority status, we are assigned to each shift on rotation.” Upon arriving at the mine, usually a few minutes before the previous shift ends, Yu meets up with the previous operator and quickly checks the condition of the vehicle. “There might be issues or I might need to refuel, but the handover process generally only takes a minute,” he explains.
He goes on to reveal the advantages of each series, saying how he learned – and taught others – the ‘personalities’ of each machine. He says he is “one happy driver, because I spend
my days on a safe machine and not everyone can say that in this industry”.