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2020: a year of carnage for Pakistan’s mineworkers

7 January, 2021Pakistani mineworkers’ unions estimate that at least 208 workers were killed on the job in 2020. This trend seems set to continue this year, with a fatal accident on New Years’ Day, and two fatal accidents and a terror attack on 3 January. So far this year, 14 mineworkers have been killed.

Mineworkers’ unions in Pakistan are outraged at the continued carnage in the country’s mines. Despite years of campaigning, both domestically and internationally, and a number of high-level meetings with government representatives and the ILO, there has been no change to the situation.

The roll call of mine deaths has a familiar rhythm: mine collapses, electric shocks, trolley accidents and poisonous gas continue to kill miners on an almost daily basis. In the aftermath of the accidents, the lack of adequate emergency response means that mineworkers have to rescue the living and dig the bodies of their colleagues out of the rubble. Bereaved families are paid a small amount in compensation, and no further action is taken.

Unions are shocked by the fatalistic acceptance of these deaths, and believe that the failure by Pakistan’s national and provincial governments and mine owners to learn from these preventable accidents is a terrible dereliction of duty.

Minework if often carried out in remote parts of the country where the rule of law is weak. Unions argue that a number of things must happen to change the situation: ILO Convention 176 on safety and health in mines must be ratified and implemented by incorporating its principles into national and provincial law. Both employers and workers need training in mine safety. Pakistan needs to develop its labour and health and safety inspectorate, and ensure that mine owners comply.

A number of organizations, including IndustriALL Global Union and the ILO, have offered to assist with this process. IndustriALL has produced mine safety guides in English and Urdu, and has long argued that the most important step is for the government of Pakistan to ratify ILO C176.

The precarious situation of mineworkers was further highlighted by a horrific terror attack in Mach, Balochistan, on 3 January, that left 11 mineworkers dead. The mineworkers were killed in a residential compound of a mine by a Pakistani affiliate of Islamic State, on an attack on members of the Shia Hazara minority.

On 7 January, federations of Pakistani mineworkers’ unions marched in Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, and blockaded roads in a protest against the terror attacks and the lawlessness and lack of security in mining areas.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:

“It seems that the government of Pakistan does not care about the shameful carnage in the country’s mines. Both ourselves and the ILO have approached them on several occasions, in Islamabad and Geneva, to urge them to ratify and implement ILO C176. They have failed to do so. Once they do, we are ready to assist with mine safety training so we can change the situation.”