Call for constituting separate committee for mining industry workers

Our Correspondent
Monday, Feb 21, 2022

Participants of a consultation held on Sunday expressed concerns over human rights violations and the worst working conditions in coal mines in the country, and stressed the need to enact labour-friendly laws to minimise the dangers to human lives.

The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research (Piler) and the Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation (PCMLF) jointly organised the labour consultation to discuss the issues of workers employed in the mining industry.

Piler Executive Director Karamat Ali explained the plight of forced or bonded labour in the mining industry of Pakistan, and said that deadly accidents are happening almost every day. He added that the sad part is that people have got used to them, and stressed that safety gear and the provision of hazardous gas detection equipment can mitigate the number of fatal accidents.

Gulab Khan, a labour leader from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Shangla district, highlighted the incompetence of government agencies and the apathy of politicians, and stressed the need to focus on the welfare of the workers in the mining sector. He also revealed that the dangers of mining have left about 9,000 workers disabled in the Shangla district during their work, and there is no proper facility for their medical treatment. “An organised mafia has occupied workers’ rights, leading to continued exploitation.”

Shahid Hanif of the PCMLF Islamabad region informed the meeting’s participants that the government has not developed amicable relations with the workers in the mining sector, which leads to a chaotic situation.

Saeed Khattak, a labour leader from Punjab, said workers get seriously ill and are physically affected due to short circuits and toxic gases in mines. “We are deeply concerned due to the incompetence of the labour department, which needs to revive the mines inspection system, improve the mines rescue and social security system, including better education facilities for the children of labourers.”

Explaining the plight of miners in Balochistan, Haji Khan Zaman said the labour department, including minerals, has become a hotbed of corruption and nepotism because the miners are not united and organised under one platform. The biggest usurpers are those in the nexus with government agencies and the mafia, he added.

Labour leader Sultan Khan said miners are very unfortunate people, who have no place to complain. Government officials and the elites are not serious about resolving their issues. He said that according to the Supreme Court, compensation should be the same in the whole country, but all the provinces have announced separate compensation amounts for the victims.

He lamented that government agencies, including the secretary of the mines and mineral development department, are responsible for the exploitation of miners and fatal accidents. National Trade Union Federation leader Nasir Mansoor said that trade unions in Sindh are being discouraged, but the workers are still fighting for their rights.

Citing the recently held international conference COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, he said that world leaders have unanimously agreed that they will follow the zero carbon emissions policy. Mansoor said that the mining system has been established along modern lines all over the world, and labour-friendly laws have been enacted to minimise the dangers to human lives.

Labour trainer Syed Ashraf Naqvi said that after the tragedy of the Baldia factory inferno, local legislators started working for the health and safety of labourers.

He appreciated that Sindh took the initiative by legislating the occupational safety & health law in 2017, but the law does not include the minerals and mining sector, and even today the law of the colonial era of 1923 is in force.

Naqvi said that a national policy on health and safety should be formulated at the national level, and it should be applied uniformly in the whole country in consultation with the provinces.

At the same time, he pointed out, there is a need to coordinate a comprehensive strategy for the welfare of the workers who have been disabled due to mining accidents.

Piler’s Ali thanked the participants and welcomed their suggestions, and reiterated his commitment to putting it into force. He also suggested forming a separate committee for the mining industry, comprising two labour representatives from each province, to propose policies for joint struggle.