The desperate people of Soma

The desperate people of Soma

The Soma disaster happened exactly one week ago today. As a nation, we were all glued to television sets, sharing the tragedy of the mining families in Soma while our hearts were wrenched at the people’s helplessness.   

In Turkey, which is aiming to be one of the top 10 economies in the world by 2023 and to raise its income per capita from $10,000 to $25,000, we have faced the realities of the country once more with the Soma disaster, which cost 301 lives.

We asked ourselves, “What good is a growing economy without occupational safety?”

According to data from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK), an average of 180 labor accidents occur in this country every day. An average of four people die every day. The death rate from occupational accidents is 14.5 out of every 100,000. The European Union average is 2.5. Since 2002, 14,000 people have been killed in work-related accidents. The sector where work accidents occurs the most is mining and quarrying with a rate of 10.4 percent.

Soma, where mining started in 1913, is one of the centers of mining and in this town, it is reported that there are 35,000 mine workers. In the past, this district of Manisa had the most productive agricultural land where tobacco and cotton were grown, but when agriculture lost its appeal, the only way to earn bread was down in the mines.

Farmers gave up agriculture and started working in the mines for 40 Turkish Liras a day.

Due to the Soma disaster, we have learned that Turkish miner earns almost 10 times less than a European miner; however, mining companies earn much more.

According to the latest data, while the profit average of companies on the stock exchange was 4 percent, the profits of companies in the mining sector were 22 percent.

They are able to do that, of course, by lowering costs.

The owner of Soma Holding, which manages the mine that has become the grave of 301 miners, Alp Gürkan, told a colleague two years ago that they had lowered the cost of one ton of coal from $140 to $23.80.

We learned from those miners who were brave enough to speak in front of the cameras that their masks had not been checked for years. The rescue chambers had also not yet been installed in this mine.

Even though Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said this was an “exemplary” mine, we learned from mine workers that it was not so.

First, training was inadequate. Mostly, after a short training of three days they were let loose into the dark galleries.

A miner who spoke on television the other day said safety was weak, controls were just for show and because of pressure to produce, they worked like a robot. He said no matter how bad working conditions were, he would have to go back and work in the mine, because he had to pay rent, pay his credit card debts and educate his children – like all the other desperate people of Soma.

The general manager of the Konda Research Company, Bekir Ağırdır, wrote in his column the sources of this desperateness: There are 19 million households in Turkey. In only one-fourth of these households is the income more than the expenses. In half they are equal. When we come to the lowest quarter, income is less than expenses and these households can survive only via family solidarity or by borrowing.

If we go back to the 2023 target: What is the cost of this target of becoming one of the world’s top 10 economies?