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CIS unions demand improved health and safety in mines

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25 May, 2021When 60 participants from ten mining unions in seven CIS countries met on 20 May, the need for ratification and proper implementation of ILO Convention 176 on health and safety in mines was discussed.

IndustriALL is campaigning for the ratification of ILO C176, as well as for making health and safety a fundamental right at work.

Four countries out of the total 34 that have ratified ILO Convention 176 are found in the CIS region: Armenia, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

Belarus ratified C176 in 2020. Unions are calling for an improved public control mechanism, as injury rates are still very high and official statistics often underestimate the numbers.

Unions from Ukraine reported a lack of social dialogue and noncompliance with C176, ratified in 2011. There is a law restricting labour inspections and a shortage of personal protective equipment. As a result, injury and fatality rates are very high. Unions are demanding that the government and employers take full responsibility for health and safety in the mines, including proper funding to make it a priority.

IndustriALL mining director Glen Mpufane says:

“While some countries have good national legislation, C176 will always be the highest standard and all countries should ratify it. However, ratification does not automatically mean a reduction in injuries; implementation and control need to be ensured to keep injury rates down.”

Although Armenia ratified C176 in 1999, it has yet to be implemented. There is a lack of control mechanism and risk prevention, labour inspections are rather a punishment than an opportunity for prevention and training.

Unions from Georgia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan spoke on health and safety in their countries, and the absence of C176, which would help to modify national legislation to decrease injury and fatality risks at mines. 

Ivan Mokhnachuk, president of Russian Independent Coal Employees' Union (Rosugleprof), was part of the team that developed C176 in 1994 and later fought for its ratification in Russia in 2013, said that all mines in the country can be inspected at any time by the designated state authority, as well as by a union technical inspector. This gives the union an opportunity to identify problems, collect and distribute information and organize local unions. Mine inspections are held twice a year. Every miner has to pass a medical check before the shift. As a result, fatality rates are low and on a par with the USA and other developed countries.

ILO representatives in the meeting, Lejo Sibbel and Gocha Alexandria, spoke about implementation and compliance with C176 in the region. Ratification is promoted via country programmes for decent work (in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Azerbaijan), national general agreements and strategic plans of actions of triparty committees (Georgia). Although a weakening of labour inspections in the region, there are positive changes in Georgia with the expansion of the labour inspection mandate.

Participants were reminded that unions can report to the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations, a powerful tool for unions to raise non-compliance of implementation.

Norbert Maus from German union IG BCE shared the experience in reducing occupational accidents from 25 per million working hours in 2005, to 3.5 from 2014 and onwards. Vision Zero aims to avoid all occupational accidents, and the union promoted the vision through health and safety trainings and posters with slogans like “safety starts in your head” and “safe behavior is my insurance”.  

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan says:

“ILO C176 is an important tool to protect miners’ health and safety, although ratification itself is not a solution. However, national legislation following the requirements of C176 is a good start.  
There needs to be strong unions with well-trained health and safety representatives active in the mine. We know that union presence, which allows workers to speak without fear, is the bedrock upon which implementation of C176 is possible.”

The meeting was organized by IndustriALL with the support of FES.