At least 117 people were killed in a landslide in the jade mining area in northern Myanmar on 21 November. Workers and their families were asleep in their tents that were buried under the piles of rubble.
The landslide happened at night, in a small-scale jade mining area in Myanmar’s Kachin state. The mine is run by a Chinese sub-contractor, Kan Oo Pone, and IndustriALL Global Union affiliate Mine Workers Federation of Myanmar (MWFM), attributes the deaths to the company’s unsafe piling procedures.
Jade mining in Myanmar is often perilous due to unsafe working conditions, and landslides are common. The pile believed to have caused the accident is thought to have been around 1,000 feet high. The moving rubble landed on the tents where workers and their families live, making a living out of searching for left-over stones among the rubble.
As Myanmar is opening up, both politically and financially, capital is flowing into the country. Trade unions were illegal in Myanmar until 2012, meaning that both workers’ and employers' knowledge of rights and obligations is at best low, and in many instances non-existent.
Corruption is also widespread in the country, and the MWFM claims that labour inspections in the area have not been carried out the way they should.
Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL mining director, says:
This is a tragic accident where workers have paid a high price for mine owners and authorities failing to ensure safety. Unions have an important role to play in Myanmar in order to prevent this from happening in the future,
As of January 2015, IndustriALL counts two affiliates in the country, working hard to organize members and build functioning industrial relations with employers and government authorities. MWFM organizes mine workers, and are in the process of registering three new trade unions with the authorities.