Turkish state’s policy on mining: High profits at lowest costs
The Chamber of Mining Engineers is under tremendous pressure from the government claims the head of the İstanbul branch Nedret Durukan (L) adding the state did not even respect their grief. HÜRRİYET photo, Levent KULUThe state has pulled out of the mining sector over the years, opting for privatization and subcontracting, which has increased risks in the sector, according to the head of Istanbul branch of Chamber of Mining Engineers. The state’s stance has been one of encouraging maximum production with minimum costs, said Nedret Durukan, speaking in the aftermath of the Soma mine disaster that has resulted in more than 300 dead miners.
Can you give us an overall picture of the mining sector in Turkey?
Mining is a sector where production needs to be done by giving priority to the public benefit. We have to have strategies for future generations. There should be a distinction between the state and the private sector. Resources need to be used in the best way possible. There are some mines where incorrect management can finish off the mine, despite the fact that production could have continued. If you aim for maximum production with minimum costs then you waste resources. But this is the dominant mentality in Turkey. The state refrained from investing in the mining sector; over the years it has started to pull out of the sector. The state owns the mines but it transfers the management in some cases to a subcontractor, or as happened in this case [in Soma] it privatizes the mine completely. If you privatize then you must have an efficient inspection mechanism.
What we say is that this is a sector that needs an integrated approach. It is a risky sector and using subcontractors or privatization is risky. We have to give up the approach based only on profits and more production. The state should invest in the sector. Forced production is the biggest threat to the sector. Accidents mostly happen in the winter. Why? Because it is then that demand grows.
So are you against privatization? In the past the mines were criticized because they were not managed profitably as they were all in the hands of the state.
To find a country’s natural resources is the responsibility of the state anyway. The state had enough qualified people, but no budget was allocated to the General Directorate of Mineral Research and Exploration [MTA]. It was forced to become idle. The MTA is now unable to fulfill its functions.
There are claims that accidents have increased since the privatizations.
According to our statistics, subcontracting has harmed the mining sector more than any other sector. Our sector does not tolerate mistakes. Most of the time accidents are deadly; as we see in this case, the toll can be very high.
So accidents have always been saying “we are coming”?
We have a report dated June 2010. A newspaper quoted this report the other day. But no one looked at it back in 2010. We have been saying every year that accidents will take place. We conduct studies after every accident and share our results and proposals with officials as well as the public.
So one basic observation is that we do not learn from past lessons.
But what are the main problems? The government’s spokesperson said Turkey’s law on labor safety conformed with that of the EU.
If it is in conformity with the EU, then why has Turkey not signed the International Labor Organization’s [ILO] convention? The law has its shortcomings, but even if you have the best law, what counts is the implementation. What matters are the bylaws. The law introduced such large responsibilities to employers that its substance was eroded by the bylaws that were later passed. The theory and the implementation did not overlap. There were not enough people to work as occupational safety specialists. Too much was expected from the specialists and their function became totally commercialized. What we have been hearing of late is that the risk analyses that are supposed to be made by specialists are done on a “copy paste” basis. But each workplace is not the same.
So the specialists who are supposed to make the risk analyses and see that necessary measures are taken to avert these risks do not work efficiently?
They don’t and they can’t because there is too much weight on their shoulders. Therefore, the inspections only remain on paper. When you look, is there an emergency plan? Yes there is. But when there is an emergency there is still chaos. This means that there is a problem in the implementation.
Another problem is that they get paid by the employer. As a specialist you tell your employer what needs to be done. You say, for instance, that training needs to be given to the workers. The employer says they cannot receive training during work hours, otherwise production will stop. But you cannot make workers accept training after a long day at work. How can you object to the employer that pays your salary? The laws should be changed in order to protect the specialists, so they can implement sanctions. The Energy Ministry also is responsible for inspection.
In the case of the mine where the accident took place in Soma, another argument from the government is that the inspections were carried out and nothing wrong was detected.
On paper everything can look good. The question we also need to ask is whether there are enough inspectors in the state as well. And also the labor inspector in the case of the mining sector needs to be a mining engineer. That is not the case all the time. So, whatever is done in Turkey is done just to save the day. The Energy Ministry and the Labor Ministry need to question themselves as far as efficient inspection is concerned. Still, you can inspect a place twice a year, what about the rest of the time? We need continuous inspections from safety specialists, but to what degree can they carry out their duties if they get their salaries from the employer? To what degree can they implement sanctions?
The trade unions have also been criticized for being inefficient.
The Sept. 12  military coup was a turning point. Labor and occupational organizations were dispersed [after the coup]. There was tremendous pressure on these organizations. We now have unsafe and unguaranteed labor. Desyndicalization became the prevailing tendency. Today, there is a huge gap between the total numbers of workers and those who are syndicated. Unfortunately, trade unions in Turkey are not efficient. Today, becoming syndicated has become a justification to be fired.
Turkey has registered record levels of growth. I guess that has come at the expense of labor rights?
Nobody should talk to me about growth in numbers when workplaces are unsafe.
What would you say about the latest incident?
It is not right to say something before seeing the technical investigation, and to lynch certain people wouldn’t be ethical. What we say is that the approach of the state to the sector is wrong. The Energy and Labor Ministries have to be held accountable in front of the public. They cannot just escape from their responsibilities by simply blaming the company.
Saying these accidents are inevitable is unacceptable. Saying death is in the nature of this profession is unacceptable.
We are the technological eye of the public. But this eye is forced to be blind. There is tremendous pressure on our chamber. Especially more so after the Gezi events. We have a state that cannot even respect our grief. We were on the streets after Soma and we were again attacked by the police. Those who are not seeking their rights are guilty, those who are not screaming the truth are guilty, and the press that does not share with the public these screams for the truth is equally guilty.
Who is Nedret Durukan?
Nedret Durukan was born in 1960 in Istanbul. She graduated from Istanbul Technical University’s Mining Engineering faculty in 1982. The next year, she started working at EİE; Electricity Administration. She has worked on issues such as energy saving and renewable energy.
She was first acquainted with the Chamber of Mining Engineers in 1979 when she was still a student and became a member in 1982. In 1984, she became a board member. In 2010, she served as substitute member in the Istanbul branch’s administration board. In 2012, she became the head of the branch and continues to hold this title following the general assembly in 2014.
She represents the chamber in the Women commission of the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects. She particularly works on work-related accidents and rights for female engineers.