Miners and rescuers after the Soma mine disaster. Photo Hilmi Hacalo?lu (Voice Of America)
Turkish Mining Tragedy
Truly terrible news is coming out of Turkey. Some 245 men are reported to have died with 80 injured after an explosion at a coal mine in Soma, west Turkey, on Tuesday 13 May. Sadly many more are unaccounted for and this figure is likely to rise.
As IndustriALL the global union has pointed out:
“The survival rate for coal miners following explosions or fires is extremely low, as compared to accidents in mines for hard rock or metal. The rescue must happen as quickly as possible following an explosion in a coal mine if those trapped are to be brought out alive. IndustriALL and everybody watching hopes that this case will be the exception to the rule. Carbon monoxide poisoning is the biggest threat to those still trapped underground”.
We can only hope that this indeed proves to be the exception to the rule.
Apart from the sheer magnitude of the loss in life involved there are other features to this tragedy which are deeply disturbing. Firstly, Turkey’s health and safety at work record is appalling. Quite specifically, Turkey has possibly the worst safety record in terms of mining accidents and explosions in Europe and the third worst in the world. As recently as 7 January 2013, eight mine workers lost their lives in another mine-related accidents. According to the official records, in 73 years more than 3000 miners have been killed in Turkey. In addition, only last year a parliamentarian from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) submitted a motion to Parliament to investigate work-related accidents at coal mines in Soma. The proposal was supported by all of the three opposition parties. However, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) voted against the motion and it was rejected two weeks ago.
Clearly there must be a thorough, independent and credible investigation into this tragedy. So that lessons are learnt and if there has been a breach of the law, the guilty are prosecuted. The Turkish unions are saying that the privatisation of the pits has made mining more dangerous and that is one of the factors which needs to be looked into.
Sadly there are grounds for doubting whether such an investigation will take place. While under pressure Turkish Prime Minister promised such an investigation he went on to say:
“This is what happens in coalmining. There is no such thing as accident-free work.”
To back-up his assertion that such deaths are just in the nature of mining, he quite extraordinarily cited major mining accidents from 19th century Britain. He ended by saying:
“These things happen. We do have something called an accident at work.”
It would seem that he is more preoccupied with minimising the political fall-out of the deaths rather than identifying their causes and preventing future loss of life. Prime Minister Erdogan should know that it’s only a short step from complacency to complicity.