The untold plight of Pakistan’s coal miners

On Wednesday the 12th September 2018, 9 miners lost their lives when a coal mine collapsed 45 kilometer off Peshawar in Kohat district’s Akhurwal village.

On 13th of August, 12 mining workers perished in a coalmine explosion in Quetta district’s Sanjdi area.

Prior to that, on May 6, at least 23 miners were killed when two coal mines collapsed near Quetta. The first accident had occurred in Marwaarh, 45 kilometers east of Quetta due to a gas explosion, the other occurred in an area named sooranj.

These are just a few recent incidents that got reported in the national press, many tragedies happening in our coal mines go unreported; miners get fatally wounded and killed almost on daily basis in mining operations carried out in Pakistan’s far flung areas. Almost 200 miners die annually in Pakistan, leaving behind their families and children at the mercy of society. Laborers working in the coal mines belong to the poorest and the most vulnerable segments of society. Working in coalmines is one of the toughest jobs one can find in Pakistan that involves prohibitively high risks and paltry wages barely sufficient to keep one hand to mouth.

Pakistan’s mining sector has seen phenomenal boom in terms of expansion and profits in recent years. Mining companies have heaped profits for themselves and are paying valuable taxes to national exchequer, but the situation for a mining laborer is as bleak as ever, because a miner has experienced no improvement in terms of life security, health insurance, accident coverage and wages. 

Pakistani mining laborers are losing their lives in the dark depths of coal mines just to earn bread for their near and dear ones, and on an unfortunate day his place of work can well become his grave. Thousands of poor and untrained miners working in life threatening environments need something more concrete than just sympathies and condolences, perhaps they don’t even get their fare share of sympathies, their deaths go unreported in the press, the political big wigs or religious leaders seldom offer their condolences, the preservers of the faith and the guardians of the future just can’t spare a few moments of their precious time to utter a few words of sympathy for the dead miners.

It is high time to break this cold apathetic silence on this human issue because Pakistan is losing its tough and hardworking sons in the coal mines. Mining sector is vital for our economic life and our miners shed their sweat in the mines to keep our mining industry moving. Mining businesses, government agencies and society must come up with a plan to improve working conditions for the miners. This issue can no more be ignored because children belonging to the most marginalized segments of the society are paying for this indifference.

These are the things that need to be done to make the lives of coal miners safer:

A new more effective legislation for mining operations and work place safety

Mining sector is one of the most under regulated sectors of Pakistan’s economy due to lack of implementation of existing laws. Pakistan has four sets of laws to regulate mining operations and to safeguard the rights of mining laborers namely the mines act 1923, mines maternity act benefits act 1941, coal mines fixation of rates and wages ordinance 1961 and excise  duty on minerals (labor welfare) act 1967. Existing laws seem to insufficient at enforcing regulations and guarding the rights of mine workers. It is time for the lawmakers to work for a new piece of legislation possibly a new mining act 2018; this new legislation must take into account the provisions of ILO’s 1995 convention on health and safety in mines.

Rigorous and Systematic inspection and monitoring of mining operations

An independent monitoring unit must be established to monitor not only the mining operations throughout the country, but the conduct of the mining business owners as well. Qualified inspectors must be recruited whose job should be to vigilantly monitor coal mines all across the country with stringent application of rules. Inspectors’ responsibilities should include ensuring compliance with code of practice for occupational safety in coal mines and prescribed responsibilities of coal miners, employers, managers, supervisors and surveyors. Additionally compliance to rules regarding accident and disease prevention in mines, availability of protective equipment, ventilation, fires and dust, use of explosives, precautions against explosions, availability of first aid etc must be routinely scrutinized from time to time.

Safety training and provision of safety equipment at affordable prices for miners

Every mining laborer must receive a free mandatory safety training prior to starting his or her job in the coal mines. Employers ought to be obliged by law to provide comprehensive pre-job and on job safety training encompassing hazard communication, machine guarding, equipment maintenance, illumination, fall protection, ventilation and hazard signage etc to prospective miners. An elaborate mines safety training plan with specific number of hours (for example forty hours training for untrained miners is mandatory in the US) must be declared to be mandatorily followed. Every year each miner should be provided refresher health and safety training for at least 8 hours. Availability of personal safety equipment (PPE), footwear, work gloves, eyesight/hearing protection and protective outfits for example rain gear, head gear, high visibility jackets and overalls, clothing with reflecting strips etc must be ensured at reduced and subsidized prices to maximize safety in coal mines

Mandatory accident coverage and health insurance for miners

Accident coverage for miners has to be available to every miner, and every mine owner must be legally bound to have a reasonable workers’ compensation policy. Whenever an accident occurs in a coal mine, a miner gets injured or killed his whole family and children has to suffer because there is no compensation or accident coverage mechanism in place for miners. This state of indifference and blatant disregard for life and wellbeing of the coal miner must end now. The employers and state must take up their moral and legal responsibility to compensate the injured miner or take care of his family and children in case he loses his life. The contract of employment that a miner signs must guarantee him a respectable compensation for the significant risk he is exposed to at his workplace this is one of the most important prerequisites to address to woes of mining laborers.

Ratification of the 1995 international labor organization’s safety and health in mines convention

It is the responsibility of federal government to act and intervene for the sake of protecting the lives of coal miners all across Pakistan. ILO’s 1995 convention on safety and health convention in mines provide a standardized mechanism for miners’ safety. Pakistan needs to ratify this convention and also needs to incorporate the provisions of the 2006 ILO code of safety and health in coalmines into national policy about mining.

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