KARACHI: Airing their concerns over too many mine workers losing their lives or getting injured in mine accidents in recent years, representatives of trade unions and labour organisations said on Monday that not taking care of their safety was akin to premeditated murder.
The labour bodies addressed a press conference here at the Karachi Press Club. Simultaneously, there were similar press conferences called in all the major cities of the four provinces of the country.
Karamat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research said that there were deadly accidents happening almost every day and the sad part was that people have gotten used to them.
“But not giving mine workers facilities or not taking care of their safety is akin to premeditated murder,” he said.
According to a report, during the last year about 164 mine workers lost their lives and 300 got injured in accidents in mines in Balochistan alone. But the government, or Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation (PMDC), has not taken any measure to save the lives of workers.
About 164 workers have lost their lives in accidents in mines in Balochistan alone
On July 14, nine miners lost their lives at the Degari coal mining area, situated about 40km from Quetta, because of non-availability of rescue machinery at the site. The rescue teams arrived quite late and they were not equipped with proper equipment. They said that only two workers could be rescued alive but injured whereas nine bodies were recovered from debris. The rescue teams of PMDC did not have proper equipment, not even fans as the power lines put in there are also very old with not all of them in working order.
Internationally, some 30 million workers are engaged in the mining sector, and of them 10m are working in coal mines. In Balochistan, the mines are leased out to influential persons, who again sublet them to the private sector contractors for excavation of coal. However, the contractors and their petty contractors do not provide any safety equipment or facilities regarding occupational safety and health at the mining sites. The provincial labour department too seldom conducts labour inspections. Thus fatal accidents often take place at these mines.
Mr Ali of Piler said that it was also the responsibility of the judiciary to make sure that the citizens of the country were given their fundamental rights.
“But, a debate [has been] started by the judiciary whether labour should be unionised or not. The judiciary is to work according to the Constitution. It shouldn’t change the Constitution, which can only be done by parliament,” he pointed out.
“If the Balochistan High Court has an issue with the fundamental rights of the people in that province, there will be a petition filed in court from people like us from all the four provinces of the country. The Trade Union Act of 1926 too said that every worker, except those working for the military and who donned uniforms, can be unionised,” he added.
Nasir Mansoor of the National Trade Union Federation disclosed that they had made an effort to unionise the labour in a Chinese mining company working here. “But then the government intervened to disallow the move,” he said.
‘Miners treated like slaves’
Qamoos Gul Khattak of the Muttahida Labour Federation said miners were treated like slaves in Balochistan. “There the feudal who owns the mines would rather pay hooligans and goons instead of doing anything positive for the hard-working labour. And then if there is a casualty, the family of the victim is only paid Rs200,000 as compensation, that is if they are paid any compensation at all.”
Anis Haroon of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said that this was all basically a big human rights violation.
“What else do you say when there is no safety measures, no compensation, no basic facilities? Then the labour working in mines is all contractual labour going there from all over the country. If anything happens to them, their families are the last ones to know of it. The country earns from their mined resources but it is not willing to do anything about miners,” she said.
Mahnaz Rahman of the Aurat Foundation observed that trade unions were like a thorn in the side of the lords and owners. “The forces of globalisation are against them but we have to fight for them,” she said.
Habib Junaidi of the Peoples Labour Bureau said that it would be a good idea to see what laws were in place for miners in other countries and try to introduce those laws here as well.
He also said that there should be a day set aside for miners when people can be told about their work and awareness spread about their working conditions and requirements as well as the importance of their work. “If not that then maybe we can have a black day in memory of the miners we have lost and keep on losing on a daily basis,” he said.
Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2019