Middlemen thwart mine closures, Turkish labor minister says after disaster
Çelik was among a team that went underground for inspections after the incident. AA PhotoTurkish Labor Minister Faruk Çelik has admitted that the state is having trouble in closing down mines under bad conditions, implying that local nepotism was hampering efforts.
“This pain is unbearable,” Çelik told journalists in Ermenek, the small town in the Central Anatolian province of Karaman where efforts were desperately continuing to pull out 18 workers trapped 375 meters below the ground at a mine that filled with underground water on Oct. 28.
“It is time we find a solution to this problem. Whenever we attempt to close a mine, the employer brings in 50 people to mediate. This responsibility is on all of us,” he added.
The government attempted to close down many unsafe mines following a mine disaster in the Aegean town of Soma, which was the site of Turkey's largest ever industrial disaster in May, killing 301.
However, many mines, including the Ermenek mine, were reopened after little improvement.
Speaking to daily Vatan, Çelik said the Labor Ministry is responsible for inspections but the real problem is about licensing small mines, which are poor in both safety conditions and production capacity.
He said employers were avoiding investing in small mines, which are about to expire, and try to cut costs by bypassing safety requirements.
“I think such mines should be shut down,” he said, adding that the same problems of nepotism are also present in the construction sector.
Çelik was among a team that went underground for inspections after the incident. “I will speak bluntly, what I saw is that this mine should not have gotten a license. We went in with the prime minister [Ahmet Davutoğlu]. Before that, we went in with three ministers. All of our jackets were wet from sweat while coming back up. Now you try to imagine the conditions inside," he said.
“The slope is 35 degrees. The worker has to go down 350 to 400 meters. There is no rail system, no elevators. They go on foot. They say that climbing back takes 45 minutes. We went down only 200 meters and all were exhausted. How can these workers work?” he asked.
Miners also reportedly told the ministers that they had not received their payments for months, and complained that inspectors had not shown up at the site at all.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said at the scene of the accident on Oct. 29 that the government had brought in many regulations after the Soma disaster.
“With that legal regulation, we have introduced various benefits for the workers at mines. However, it was obvious that some problems would emerge due to those employers who were not happy with it,” he said.