Soma Mining Tragedy

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2014 National Delegate Conference
5 June 2014

Conference will be aware that on 13 May 2014, an explosion at the coal mine in Soma, Manisa, western Turkey caused an underground mine fire which burned until 15 May killing a total, 301 people in what can only be described as the worst mining disaster in Turkey’s history.

The mine, operated by coal producer Soma Komur Islemeleri A.S suffered an explosion, the cause of which is still under investigation.

The fire occurred at the mine’s shift change and 787 workers were underground at the time of the explosion. After the final bodies were pulled from the mine on May 17 2014, four days after the fire, the Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Taner Yildiz confirmed the number of dead was 301. Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) announced the names of 301 workers who died in the mine disaster and 486 people who survived but some politicians claimed that the number of dead is more than 340.

In late 2013 miners protested dangerous mining conditions and the main opposition party demanded the Republican People’s Party (CHP) to investigate the mine’s safety. However these calls were rejected in the National Assembly of Turkey with votes from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) only weeks before the disaster.

For years workers at the mine had complained about the dangers in the mine, where methane leaking from coal deposits frequently caused fires. Only days before the accident, miners spoke of an intense heat, which is often a prelude to a major fire.

As families grapple to understand how their loved ones left for work but never returned, vocal protesters are demanding an explanation for how a push to privatise Turkey’s formerly state-dominated mining sector, combined with allegedly cushy relationships between mine owners and government regulators, has made the industry lethal for a growing numbers of miners.

An official investigation began on Sunday 18 May and has so far resulted in the detention of 25 employees of Soma Holding, the mine’s parent company, Ramazan Dogru, the general manager of the mine, and operating manager Akin Celik are among those detained, while five Soma employees have formally been charged with “negligence and causing multiple deaths.”

The arrests suggest an about-face for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has been accused of being too cosy with Soma Holding. Melike Dogru, wife of the mine’s general manager, is a local councillor for the AKP and chairwoman of the provincial parliament. Turkish media has reported that mine owner Alp Gurkan was awarded $33 billion in government contracts over the last seven years.

Some miners claim that the safety breaches were a direct result of the absence of government supervision. They state “We never saw inspectors anywhere but in the main sections of the mine, where there isn’t a risk of fire. The oxygen masks many needed to survive were faulty, checking masks should have been an easy thing for inspectors to do.”

In a visit to Soma, Turkish PM, Erdogan, called mine accidents in Turkey “commonplace,” and compared them to similar accidents in 19th century Europe. Public anger in Soma exploded over those comments, and the premier was heckled and booed by a mob in Soma after delivering his speech. The anger grew after the PM’s adviser Yusuf Yerkel was photographed kicking a protester in Soma, and miners took to Soma’s streets over the weekend. The investigation that began on Sunday 18 May 2014, seemed to further stoke the miners’ anger. Some said the government was merely looking for a scapegoat.

Notwithstanding the above this tragedy ranks as the worst mining disaster in recent memory, and is made all the more tragic by the seemingly uncaring attitude of the government and mining companies.

Their attitude is unacceptable and must come to an end. It is intolerable that mine workers in Turkey are denied their basic human right to work in an environment that guarantees their safety.

Conference we note that Turkey has the worst possible safety record in terms of mining accidents and explosions in Europe and the third worst in the world.

Conference we call on the National Executive Council to work with the International Committee and other parties to:

1)Call on the Turkish government to immediately ratify and implement International Labour Organisation Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines, to save the lives of mine workers;

2)Call on the Turkish authorities to take the lives of mineworkers seriously and to place it above profit;

3)Call on UNISON to continue to support the International Labour Organisation at national and branch levels to ensure health and safety for workers across the world.