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Black Day: unions in Pakistan protest mine deaths

2 October, 2018Unions in Pakistan held a day of mourning and protest on 28 September at the continued death toll in the country’s mines, and called for the ratification of ILO Convention 176.

The IndustriALL Pakistan Council – made up of Pakistani affiliates to IndustriALL Global Union – were protesting the failure of the government to act to stem the carnage. IndustriALL affiliates estimate that 98 coal miners have been killed this year, with 70 injured.

The most recent incident was 30 September, when four mine workers were killed in the Sanjdi area of Balochistan, after a methane gas explosion. Five workers were rescued by their co-workers. At least 23 workers were killed in two incidents in the past month.

Demonstrations were held in the cities of Quetta, Sharigh, Loralai, Hub, Karachi, Islamabad, Gujrat, Faisalabad, Multan, Lahore, Peshawar and Dera Ismail Khan.

Carrying black flags and balloons to a press conference outside the Quetta press club, unions adopted a resolution calling on the Chief Justice of Pakistan to sanction mine owners guilty of negligence.

They called on the government to implement and ratify ILO Convention 176 on safety and health in mines, and to update Pakistan’s Mining Act of 1923. The demanding training in health and safety and labour law, social security coverage for mine workers, and higher compensation paid to victims’ families.

Speakers at the event said:

“Owners and mine managers don’t care for poor workers, because for them money is more important that coal miners’ lives. At every accident, local people, union members and other miners have to rescue the victims themselves, because of the belated response by officials.”

They added that between 100 and 200 workers die in coal mine accidents every year, but these are under-reported in the media, because powerful mine owners are able to suppress stories.

Workers are employed through contractors and sub-contractors, who not only exploit the workers by paying them a pittance, but also do not provide proper safety equipment. Most mine workers are paid between Rs 7,000 (US $57) and Rs 12,000 (US $97) per month, lower than the minimum wage of Rs 15,000 (US $122).

Workers are employed on a seasonal or temporary basis through agents, and do not enjoy benefits such as annual leave, available to regular workers.

Unions allege that labour inspectors and the government are complicit with mine owners and contactors, and turn a blind eye to the plight of the workers.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:

“The terrible carnage in Pakistan’s mines needs to end immediately. So far, the government has not taken the issue seriously, and powerful mine owners have been able to stop action being taken.

“IndustriALL will continue to fight until this terrible suffering ends.”

IndustriALL conducted a mission to Pakistan earlier this year, and met with government officials, who pledged to work on mine safety. However, recent elections brought a change of government, meaning dialogue must be re-established.