In just three months, 30 coal miners died in Pakistan

Unregulated and illegally run mines, lack of safety equipment, and targeted attacks by militia groups continue to prove deadly for coal miners in Pakistan

March 23, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Pakistan coal miners
(Photo: Mohammad Ali/ White Star)

This year, between January to March 10, at least 30 mine workers lost their lives in different incidents across Pakistan, IndustriALL reported in a statement. Unregulated and illegally run mines, lack of safety equipment, and target attacks by militia groups continue to prove deadly for miners across the country. 

On March 3, six mine workers lost their lives after being exposed to a poisonous gas leak at a mine in Balochistan’s Harnai district. Earlier, on February 10, two miners were crushed to death inside a coal mine in Balochistan’s Dukki district.

The rising number of casualties of miners is not only due to accidents like mine blasts, landslides, electrocutions, and exposure to poisonous gas, but also attacks by militants targeting different mines, particularly in Balochistan. On February 27, four miners were gunned down by militants in the Khost area of Harnai. Such targeted attacks against the miners have been taking place for several years.

According to general secretary of the Pakistan Central Mines Labor Federation, Sultan Khan, “The plight of coal miners is worsening due to institutional apathy and negligence of concerned authorities and non-implementation of labor laws.”

IndustriAll reported that since 2021, at least 300 miners have been killed and more than 100 severely injured. Mine workers are also at a greater risk for chronic respiratory illness. According to unions, lack of economic opportunities and acute poverty forces people to consider working in mines. 

The plight of workers in privately-owned mines is no different than government ones. As per unions, the same primitive extraction methods are used in both, and in case of any accident, mine workers have no access to well-equipped emergency response teams. 

Unions including the Pakistan Central Mines Labor Federation and the All Pakistan Labor Federation have been campaigning for the implementation of international laws on workers’ safety in mines. However, successive governments in Pakistan have failed to ratify ILO Convention 176, which deals with the health and safety of mine workers. 

Additionally, the marginalized workers are often unable to file compensation claims for death or injury because of lack of attendance records and no social security scheme registrations. “We demand that along with the mine owners keeping an attendance register of workers going underground, the mining department should conduct a thorough investigation of the accidents, and criminal cases be filed against mine owners,” said Khan.

As Pakistan faces an energy crisis amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, import restrictions, and banks refusing to approve credit letters, the pressure is on the domestic coal mining industry to meet rising demands.

Miners, who were already working in dangerous conditions, are now forced to increase production, with workplace safety further compromised. The unions complain that a large number of workers are asked to work more than 10 hours a day, in clear violation of Pakistani labor laws.