Turkish labor minister blames system for mine deaths

Turkish labor minister blames system for mine deaths

Nuray Babacan ANKARA
Turkish labor minister blames system for mine deaths

Rescue works for the 18 trapped miners at the Ermenek mine have entered their second week, with hopes dim. AA Photo

Labor Minister Faruk Çelik has admitted that there are systemic flaws in Turkey’s mining sector, as his government continues to be criticized for mistakes leading to yet another mine tragedy that left 18 workers missing in the Central Anatolian province of Karaman.

Those responsible for the tragedy in Ermenek, the small town in Karaman where desperate efforts are ongoing to reach 18 workers trapped 375 meters underground at a mine that filled with water on Oct. 28, should be brought to trial, along with those responsible for Turkey’s largest ever industrial disaster that led to the loss of 301 miners in the town of Soma in May, Çelik said.

“As the ministry, we have launched an administrative investigation,” he told daily Hürriyet on Nov. 5, while noting that the investigation into two inspectors who visited the mine in Soma at the time was about to be completed and would be made public soon.

“We should handle the issue in its entirety; this is not how the media is handling the issue. Let’s investigate what is wrong here. Our inspections are conducted without an earlier notification,” Çelik said.

Although the labor policies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, in power since November 2002, have come under the spotlight with the recent deaths, the minister maintained that the problem was the use of old-style techniques in the mining sector.

“We should end this. I’m saying it openly, you should make this your front page story: This structure produces accidents,” Çelik said.

“The real problem is what you have been doing with a 1960 model car. This will happen when you carry on a business in 2014 with a 1960 model car,” he added. “Experiencing similar accidents is a matter of the moment. What should we do to prevent this? We should concentrate on basin mining and project mining. There is no other way to prevent deaths."

However, Çelik refused calls for his resignation, pointing the finger elsewhere.

“Will the problem be solved by holding me and my civil servants responsible? Are we the sole authority responsible for these kinds of incidents? One should better look at all counterparts,” Çelik said, while arguing that his ministry’s authority was limited to inspection.

“Are we the only party involved in this? Are we the only name that occurs to you when you say public authority?” he added.

Both Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have recently vowed to introduce new measures to improve the conditions of workers, while the company operating the mine in Ermenek, Has Şekerler Mining, rejected responsibility for the accident in a statement issued on Oct. 30, assuring that all necessary safety measures had been taken.