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Unions necessary to prevent mine disasters, Turkish expert says

ISTANBUL - Milliyet | 5/24/2010 12:00:00 AM |

With three methane explosions in three different mines in the last six months in Turkey, Fikret Sazak, an expert from a miner’s trade union, draws attention to the lack of proper precautions and strong workers’ union in the country. Unionizing in mines would mean continuous security inspections, Sazak adds

Recent deadly accidents in Turkey’s coal mines are a direct result of a lack of proper precautions and strong workers’ union, according to an expert in the field.

Three methane explosions have occurred in three different mines in the last six months, while all three workplaces had no trade union, Fikret Sazak, an expert from the Maden-İş trade union, which organizes among mining sector workers, said in an interview published in Monday’s edition of the Milliyet.

At least 28 workers were killed in an explosion last Monday in the Karadon mine in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak. In February, an explosion occurred in a mine in the Dursunbey district of the western province of Balıkesir, killing 14 workers while in December 2009, 17 workers died in another explosion in the Mustafakemalpaşa district of the western province of Bursa.

Sazak, who has been training mine workers for years, said the existence of a trade union in mines would result in regular safety inspections.

Trade union representatives at a mine are experts on work safety and health, Sazak said, adding that it is only a trade union that can reach all corners of the mines and each and every worker.

“An organized worker warns his representative when he feels something is going wrong. And the union, depending on its power of organization, can get the engineer responsible for on-the-job safety and the employer to stop the work,” he said.

[HH] Inspections should be independent

There are engineers in every mine responsible for safety and health at work, Sazak said, adding that such engineers are tasked with inspecting the mine conditions and halting work and evacuating the miners if they note any danger.

Under the current system, however, engineers are employed by the company, Sazak said. “That is one of the fundamental problems.”

“They make their contracts with the company, and the company gives them their wages. [The engineers] will tell the company that there is a risk, but the company will say there is no risk. Maybe there is a risk that the company cannot see, but as the company gives the wage, its word will be counted,” he said.

Sazak proposed the establishment of a common fund to provide for the wage of the control engineers, thereby guaranteeing their independence and said such an engineer’s contract should be given by the General Directorate for Mining Works, the state institution that manages mines.

[HH] Subcontracting system

Sazak also emphasized the role subcontracting firms have played in accidents. “If you pay attention, accidents occur at places that are run by subcontractor firms.”

The mining business wants to attain a unified production process, Sazak said, adding that dividing into pieces means a loss of control.

Last week’s explosion in Zonguldak was in the gallery of the subcontracted Yapıtek company, which was opening galleries inside the mine.

When asked about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statement noting the presence everywhere of the subcontracting system, Sazak said the situation in Turkey was different.

“Trade unions in developed countries can organize in subcontracting firms as well. Second, subcontracting firms are under inspections and are bound by relevant laws as well in those countries,” he said.

The subcontracting system in the mining sector first began in support jobs such as food services and transportation before spreading, Sazak said. “If you can open a gallery in a mine you can go and have the coal as well.”

[HH] Miners do not live long

Miners are generally isolated people, Sazak said. “They are introverted. Moreover, despite religiosity among miners, they drink alcohol but not to have fun. They drink to forget. Miners are the workers who get the minimum return on their social insurance premiums because they die so early,” he said.

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