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Death, destruction and destitution in Pakistan’s coal mines

As death, destruction and destitution stalk mineworkers in Pakistan’s coalfields, IndustriALL Global Union launches a global campaign to stop the killing and call for the ratification of ILO Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines by the Pakistani government.

With some of the largest coal reserves in the world, Pakistan’s economy is driven by the “black gold” at a great human cost to those that produce the nation’s energy needs.

On the 21-22 November, the International Labour Organization convened a national tripartite consultation on Occupational Safety and Health in the Mining Sector, the first of its kind in Pakistan. The meeting heard how the industry is possibly one of the most unregulated in the world. A fragmented ownership structure is characteristic of the industry, with both public and private ownership, many individuals and illegally owned mines.

Against a backdrop of a roll call of dead coalminers compiled by IndustriALL, delegates recounted how the government continues to fail mineworkers through sheer negligence and systemic governance failure. The working conditions in poorly developed coalmines are deplorable and made worse by the use of outdated mining procedures characterised by inefficient manual and semi-mechanised mining methods that expose workers to the risk of both fatal and non-fatal accidents, and serious occupational respiratory diseases.

The inefficiency and failure of the government to implement mining legislation in Pakistan is clear, and has disastrous consequences. Most worrying and of serious concern is the overburdened mining inspectorate system, which is the legislative custodian of coal mineworkers’ lives. The laws and regulations are the competency of the federal government, while its implementation lies with the provinces.

This arrangement opens mineworkers to an inconsistent and uneven application of the law in different provinces, with almost no consequences in the case of violation, because the mining inspectorate is incapacitated. Reports by the mining inspectorate are ignored, with no consequences. No register of the mineworkers who go underground and come back up is kept. No national data base of mineworkers is kept either.

The wholesale and unregulated use of contracting, subcontracting of contracting, low wages, lack of safety and security, and meagre compensation for families of mineworkers who die in the mines are additional contributory factors behind the carnage.

“The government must place the lives of mineworkers above profit. We call upon the government to take immediate steps to improve safety in Pakistan’s mines by enforcing the implementation of the country’s safety laws and regulations,” said Glen Mpufane, director of mining at IndustriALL.

Sultan Mohammad Khan, secretary general of the Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation urged the government of Pakistan to, “urgently commit to the ratification and implementation of ILO Convention 176 and to ban or regulate the wholesale and unregulated use of contractors and subcontracting”.

Black Mountain – coal miners in Pakistan

A film about conditions in Pakistan’s coal mines

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