Thursday, May 15, 2014

With over 280 coal miners dead and up to 150 more still missing and presumed dead in the latest mine disaster in Turkey, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) is calling on the Turkish government to end years of inaction on mining health and safety and ratify and implement the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines. The climbing death toll after a fire and explosion at the Soma coal mine on May 13 is the country’s worst mining disaster in history.

The Soma coal mine has a long history of occupational health and safety neglect, which has progressively grown worse since it was privatized ten years ago. Workers — some as young as 15 years of age — labour each day under primitive and gruesome conditions. Mining accidents and fatalities in Turkey have grown 92% in the last 40 years. Other industries have also seen a rise in workplace accidents with a 40% increase in the past decade.

It is intolerable that mine workers in Turkey are denied their basic human right to work in a safe working environment and instead are expected to go to work to die.

The CLC joins other international experts in refuting claims by the President of Turkey that the disaster was an accident. Instead, occupational health and safety professionals around the world are pointing to the widespread use of subcontracting as one of the reasons for the increase in fatalities, along with the lack of occupational health and safety measures and inadequate inspections.

The Turkish government has cast a blind eye to the well-known recurrence of violations in the Soma mine, through its own flawed and inadequate inspection system and by rejecting a parliamentary call last year for a review of mining operations. In 1992 a similar accident at the Zonguldak mine claimed the lives of 263 miners.

The CLC calls on the Canadian Government to immediately exercise diplomatic measures to encourage the Turkish government to undertake full judicial proceedings for prosecuting those responsible. Such a review, in cooperation with the ILO, must also make recommendations for stronger legislation and enforcement of the law.

Canada and Turkey have long-standing diplomatic relations since 1947 that involves bilateral and multilateral agreements for trade and military cooperation. Canada-Turkey bilateral merchandise trade stood at $2.3 billion in 2012, and Export Development Canada (EDC) has identified the country as a strategic market of opportunity for Canadian firms.

The CLC further calls on the Turkish government to ratify and fully implement ILO Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines.