The rising number of coal miners losing their lives in industrial accidents in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province and northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has elicited sharp condemnation globally. On December 14, representatives of IndustriALL Global met with the Pakistani ambassador at Geneva, Khalil Hashmi, to ask him to take steps towards ensuring that Pakistan ratifies and implements ILO Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines (C176).
On the World Human Rights Day on December 10, three coal miners were killed in the Indus-Much coal mine located in Balochistan. While condemning the deaths, unions including the Pakistan Central Mines Labor Federation (PCMLF) and All Pakistan Labor Federation (APLF) called upon the authorities to implement international conventions, the lack of which, they argue, has led to heavy casualties each year. In 2012, nearly 180 coal miners were killed across the country and more than 90 miners lost their lives in Balochistan, the union estimates.
On December 4, two miners lost their lives after being hit by a trolley inside Balochistan’s Duki coal field. Prior to that on November 30, a coal miner died in Punjab’s Dandot. In another accident on November 29, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Kohat District, seven coal mine workers were severely burned after a gas explosion in the Dara Adam Khail coal mine. Similarly, another landslide in Duki area of Balochistan killed a 23-year-old miner on November 28.
The unions stress that in order to prevent the loss of lives, a “genuine tripartite initiative should be taken with the participation of government, employers and mine workers,” in a process that would include “training, consultations and involve workers to deal with mining hazards.”
The working condition of over 70,000 miners employed across 2,800 coal mines in seven districts of Balochistan has been repeatedly highlighted as being unsafe by the Pakistan Mines Labor Federation. The union has pointed out that “institutional apathy and the contract system” is the reason why the mining industry remains risk prone.
According to the union, hundreds of coal mines operate in an unregulated manner. Fragmented ownership structure, illegal ownership, and failure to implement rules and regulations contribute to the deteriorating health and safety situation in Pakistani mines.
In addition to the unsafe conditions under which coal miners are forced to work, they have also faced targeted attacks by unidentified gunmen. As per the estimates by the Pakistan Mines Labor Federation, at least 176 miners were killed and more than 180 were critically wounded in different accidents in 2021.
Unions complain that due to the criminal negligence of law enforcement agencies, mine owners have a free run to play with human lives for personal gain.
IndustriALL Global assistant general secretary Kemal Ozkan, after briefing the Pakistani ambassador, said that “the gap analysis is an important step and milestone in the ratification process and there needs to be follow through to this milestone because these deaths keep IndustriALL awake at night.”