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    Pakistan’s Coal Miners Restless

    ChildrenChild LabourPakistan’s Coal Miners Restless
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    Pakistan’s Coal Miners Restless

    Poor regulatory conditions, especially the absence of government department inspection of mines, as provided under the law has meant owners don’t care to put safety measure in place and also get away with token compensations.

    A shortage of foreign exchange, coupled with the brakes on coal imports from Russia and the ban imposed on coal exports by Indonesia has forced Pakistan to turn attention to its own coal mines – with fatal consequences as workers face increased risk as supervisors put pressure to work long hours and mine more coal.

    According to trade unionists in Pakistan, there had been around 60 accidents in the country’s mines so far in the month of July. Over 90 men have died and about 40 have received severe injuries due to underground explosions, methane gas poisoning, suffocation or because of collapsing mine walls due to lax safety procedures and the unavailability of the first line of treatment at mining sites.

    Nine coal miners, including a twelve-year-old boy, were killed on 6 July after rains inundated Pakistan’s Sindh province’s coal mine. The rainwater had accumulated 50 to 60 feet inside the mine when about 40 miners were at work.

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    Since several mines in the country are unlicensed and illegally run. Miners are not covered by national laws governing the health, safety, and welfare of mining and quarrying employees, making it difficult for injured workers or deceased workers’ families to claim compensation in the event of an accident.

    The mines tend to be operated by small and medium-sized mining groups, or individuals whose only aim is to make profits. Pakistan’s miners are mostly subcontracted, doing manual or semi-mechanised work in privately owned mines which receive little technological investment.

    Working hours stretch to as much as 14 hours a day and children employed in mines is a common.

    Exploitative system

    Accidents due to mine walls caving in are commonplace in the mines of Pakistan. The hazardous conditions and the neglect of workers’ safety by mining companies and state authorities alike has fuelled an exploitative system.

    Despite heavy rainfall causing havoc throughout the country, coal mining has continued in Pakistan, worsening already bad working conditions. Surging food and fuel prices force miners to continue working in such hazardous conditions. There is also an increased pressure on miners in Pakistan to increase output as the country is facing an energy crisis due to a shortage of foreign reserves to purchase natural gas or oil from the international market to run its power plants. Instead, Pakistan has to rely on domestic coal production and coal imports.

    Poverty and a lack of job opportunities force people to work in the mines where workers often have to work for over 10 hours a day without adequate safety equipment, in violation of Pakistan’s own labour laws. When an accident occurs, the first respondents are usually other workers in the mine, as there is no access to well-equipped emergency response teams.

    PCMLF estimates that Pakistan’s coal mining sector employs more than 100,000 workers in 400 coal mines. Miners usually start working at the age of 13. By the time they reach 30, they are forced into unemployment due to chronic respiratory illnesses, tuberculosis, loss of eyesight, and injuries.

    The Pakistan Coal Mines Labour Federation estimates that the country’s coal mining sector employs over 100,000 workers in over 400 coal mines. Miners usually begin work when they are as young as 13 years old and continue till they are about 30 years old or until their tired bodies give up and the workers ‘retire’, often without pension or unemployment benefits.

    In the absence of trained and equipped emergency response teams, workers often take it upon themselves to be the first responders in the event of an emergency.

    Do also read: Pakistan’s Coal Miners Mourn For The Dead; Fight For The Living

    Medieval working conditions

    Poor regulatory conditions, especially the absence of government department inspection of mines, as provided under the law has meant owners don’t care to put safety measure in place and also get away with token compensations.

    Sultan Khan, general secretary of the Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation says, “The unregulated mining industry and the lack of implementation of existing laws kill miners every day.”

    The working conditions are medieval – there is no social security either and unions are not allowed to function freely and managements do not employ workers on paper as agreements by word of mouth are considered sacrosanct.

    “The government must commit to strictly enforcing the existing policies related to mining, and register all miners under social security schemes,” Khan says. “We also demand that mine owners should maintain an attendance register of workers going underground.”

    Unions have urged a reluctant government to ratify the ILO’s Convention 176, a 1995 convention on safety and health in mines.

    Apoorva Kaiwar, IndustriALL South Asia regional secretary says, “The working conditions in mining sites in Pakistan are appalling. Employers must ensure that safety protocols are implemented in mines.”

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