‘State firm and greed responsible’ for Soma, association head says

‘State firm and greed responsible’ for Soma, association head says

Burcu Taner İZMİR
‘State firm and greed responsible’ for Soma, association head says

People mourn in a cemetery in the western town of Soma after a fire in a coal mine killed 301 workers.

The state-run Turkish Coal Enterprises (TKİ) is the body primarily responsible for the May 13 Soma mine disaster, which took 301 lives, according to the head of the Aegean region’s mining companies’ association.

Ahmet Telek, head of the association and a mining boss, said in İzmir that Soma Mining A.Ş., the operator of the mine, was only a contractor as the TKİ owned the license for production.

The TKİ used to produce 1.5 million tons of coal annually, but the volume was increased to 2.5 million tons by the private firm with no rise in the number of employees, he said.

“It was clear that this accident was coming,” Telek said. “They were mining an extra million tons. The TKİ is the largest perpetrator of this accident. As a miner, I feel ashamed about the dress rooms and conditions of miners,” he added, criticizing Soma Mining A.Ş. for not investing back into the sector. 

A shift change in the mine would not be made underground in any part of the world, he said. The accident and fire emerged during a shift change, causing a dramatic increase in the number of causalities due to increased numbers in the mine.

The miner also noted that one inspector for 11,895 people employed in a profession listed as dangerous was too low.

There are 15,000 miners in the region, he said, while raising questions over future risks.
Some 5,000 occupational accidents happened last year, with 90 percent of them occurring in mines, Telek said. “The number of accidents boomed after 90 percent of mining sites were privatized,” he said. “Hiring subcontractors has turned into a state policy. People are put in a race to mine coal.”

As mining a ton of coal costs TKİ $130, the private firm digs it for $24 before selling it back to the TKİ, he said. “This means that the state does not mine coal but prefers to buy it at cheaper prices and distribute it for free.”

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has repeatedly received criticism over reports claiming that passes out coal to the poor before elections. The managers, technicians and team leaders at the Soma mine were paid the largest amounts of premiums in addition to high salaries, which put workers in a race against the clock, Telek said.