IMAGINE being trapped thousands of feet deep in pitch darkness with little to no oxygen.
Each day, coal miners in Balochistan risk their lives to earn a livelihood, as they enter death traps full of toxic gases with negligible safety equipment. And the body count keeps rising.
Very recently, nine miners died after a short circuit caused an explosion inside a mine in Quetta’s Degari area. After nearly two days had passed, eight lifeless bodies were recovered from inside the mine, while two miners were rushed to hospital. One succumbed to his injuries, while the other remains in critical condition. Rescue efforts often prove deadly, and are largely conducted by other miners. In the initial rescue effort in Degari, PDMA members lost consciousness when they tried to rescue the 11 trapped workers.
In any civilised part of the world, the deaths of miners would cause mass outrage, protests or strikes. Indeed, miners’ unions were once a force to be reckoned with in much of the developed world, and still continue to be in some parts.
But in Pakistan, miners are virtually powerless, unable to secure even basic rights in the presence of powerful mine owners, some of whom occupy seats in the government. Their deaths have become so common that they barely cause a ripple. The underlying issues of greed and exploitation are quickly buried under more hot-button issues. At best, a few words of sorrow are offered and an inquiry ordered — the standard procedure.
The apathy towards the death of miners and other industrial workers by both state and society should not be accepted any longer.
Labour organisations have recommended that all employment at mines be regularised immediately, with minimum wage and eight-hour work shifts guaranteed.
Second, miners must be provided with medical facilities and safety equipment.
Third, the amount of oxygen and temperature inside the mines should be legislated and notified, while air-circulation systems must be installed. And last, workers have to be covered under social security and EOBI laws.
Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2019