At least 18 coal miners died in different accidents in Pakistan this May, according to estimates by the Pakistan Central Mines Labor Federation (PCMLF), IndustriALL reported. Apathy of the authorities coupled with criminal negligence of law enforcement agencies and mine owners is proving deadly for coal miners who continue to risk their lives in inhumane and hazardous work conditions across the country.
On May 22, three miners were injured in a gas blast in a mine that reportedly belongs to the Shakot Charat Coal Company. On May 21, a worker was electrocuted in the Duki coal field that is prone to landslides, where one more worker had lost his life earlier this month. On May 19, one miner fell through a roof and died at work in the Ghazi mine. The PCMLF estimates that Pakistan’s coal mining sector employs more than 100,000 workers in 400 coal mines.
“The poor working conditions pose a real threat to workers’ lives and we need assistance in training, organizing and awareness raising activities for our workers,” PCMLF president Sultan Khan said. Unions complain that the majority of the mine owners have a free run to play with human lives for personal gain, IndustriALL reported
The miners’ unions has noted that managements usually hire coal miners at early ages. The miners are then forced into unemployment after their 30s due to chronic respiratory illnesses, tuberculosis, loss of eyesight, and injuries.
The labor unions have highlighted how primitive extraction methods continue to be employed in most coal mines. The workers therefore remain at a greater risk of undergoing injuries from “gas explosions, mine wall collapses, floods, and equipment-related accidents.”
A large number of workers are often forced to work for more than 10 hours a day without adequate safety equipment, which labor unions stress is a clear violation of Pakistan’s labor laws. At times of casualties and accidents, the first respondents are usually other workers in the mine as there is no access to well-equipped emergency response teams.
Pakistan’s National Commission for Human Rights in its report titled “Death in Mines: A Report on Coal Mines in Balochistan” has highlighted the ineffectiveness of the concerned departments primarily due to political pressures, and underscored the need to curb or minimize the accidents on priority.
International labor groups including IndustriALL have extensively supported regional federations in their demand that “safety standards under ILO Convention 176 need to be implemented.”
As the PCMLF notes, hundreds of coal mines operate in an unregulated manner with unsafe conditions. The miners have also faced targeted attacks by unidentified gunmen. The Pakistan Mines Labor Federation estimates that every year, 100-200 mine workers lose their lives. At least 176 miners were killed and 180 injured in different accidents last year.