Soma miners force union officials to resign after mine disaster

Soma miners force union officials to resign after mine disaster

Fevzi Kızılkoyun / Banu Şen MANİSA
Soma miners force union officials to resign after mine disaster A group of miners has called for the resignation of officials from Turkey’s mining union, Maden-İş, in the western town of Soma, where 301 miners were killed in the country’s largest-ever mining accident on May 13.

The miners renounced their membership from Maden-İş, which they accuse of collaborating with the mining company rather than protecting the safety and rights of workers.

The protest came after the Turkey’s biggest-ever mining disaster, a May 13 incident in which at least 301 workers lost their lives at a mine operated by the Soma Coal Mining Holding.

A group of around 300 protesters gathered in front of the local Ege Maden-İş building on May 26, demanding the resignation of the union officials for failing to secure the rights of the workers both before and after the accident.

A scuffle took place during the protest in front of the Soma union building, in which one police officer was slightly injured. Riot police were then dispatched to the scene.

Tamer Küçükgencay, the head of the Maden İş Union’s Aegean region’s branch, declared his resignation after the protests.

“I resign from the union’s head position. I could have resigned on the very first day [of the accident]. But I didn’t because I wanted to prevent people from thinking that I was running away in fear. But now I am resigning,” Küçükgencay told the group of protesters on May 26.

However, the workers have continued their slogans and protests, calling for all board members of the union to resign. As the protests continued, the board members, made of five people, declared their resignations as well. Then the miners marched to the building of the Aegean lignite pit institution which operates under the Turkish Coal Enterprises (TKİ).

Around 500 miners demanded the resignation of the head of Lignite institution, Hakkı Dural. The police took tense security measures.

Meanwhile, administrators of other mines that are operated by the Soma Coal Mine Company, the operator of the mine, called on workers to return to the job 13 days after the disaster.

But many miners rejected the calls, demanding instead safety checks in their mines in the district on the grounds that their mine has problems similar to the one in the May 13 disaster.

Production halted

Soma District Gov. Mehmet Bahattin Atçı told the protesters that a mine in the Atabacası neighborhood in Soma, operated by the much-criticized Soma Coal Mining Holding, had been halted by the Labor Inspection Committee, when the miners told him that they were forced by the employers to go to work despite the poor safety conditions inside the mines.

Atçı also said the same company’s mine in Işıklar would also be inspected.

The miners also demanded that all mines operated by private firms should be transferred to state control, saying the possibility of accidents increased under the control of the private sector. 

Since the disaster, the government and mining officials have been accused of negligence, sparking protests in several towns and cities. A total of 25 mining officials were detained for questioning by the police on May 18 under orders from investigators.        

The five charged with manslaughter include the general manager of Soma Holding, Akın Çelik, as well as two engineers and two supervisors.