As many as 43 miners have lost their lives in the last three months in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province. On March 16, five miners and two rescuers were killed in a blast in the Torghar gas field in Balochistan’s Harnai district. The incident triggered a series of protests against the authorities for ignoring the grievances of mine workers. According to activists, conditions inside mines in Pakistan continue to remain unsafe for the hundreds of thousands of miners working there.
Several unions organized a march last week urging the government to ensure safety of coal miners and to investigate the reasons behind the increasing number of mine explosions in Balochistan, which have led to several casualties and pose a serious risk to the well-being of miners.
According to experts, institutional apathy and the contract system which is prevalent within the mining sector are the main factors behind the plight of the miners. “The main problem within the mines is the contract system. And, the issue pertaining to the mines remains with all those institutions that make decisions for the welfare of the miners,” said Abdul Sattar, central chairman of the Pakistan Mines Labor Federation.
On March 12, six miners had lost their lives in an explosion triggered by the buildup of methane gas in Bolochistan’s Marwar area. They were among eight mine workers trapped in the mine at around 1,000 feet below ground.
Coal mining in Pakistan is considered to be more hazardous than hard rock mining. This is due to the nature of the rock strata, leakage or explosion of poisonous gases and coal dust, collapsing of mine stops, and mechanical errors from improper use and malfunctioning of mining equipment.
There are at present more than 2,800 coal mines in seven different districts of Balochistan, where over 70,000 people work.
Several reports released by international organizations such as IndustriALL and the International Labor Organization have in the past highlighted the deteriorating condition of miners and the hazardous conditions under which they work. The situation is made worse by the neglect shown by mining companies and state authorities towards workers’ safety.
President of the Balochistan Coal Mines Workers Federation, Sultan Lala, claimed that more than 100 coal miners were killed in Balochistan in at least 72 incidents, mostly in explosions due to the buildup of poisonous gas inside the mines. “Government as well as mine workers haven’t done anything to improve the working conditions,” Lala said.