Two statements by leading state officials summed up the whole affair. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told journalists and families of the victims of a mine disaster that the owners of coal mines are using shortcuts to try and bypass the recently enacted law stepping up security for mine workers. Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Taner Yıldız also told the press that when the ministry tries to close down a mine because of its defects, about 50 intermediaries step in and convince officials to keep the facility open. These statements were made at the Ermenek mine where mine galleries flooded with water on Tuesday and 18 miners are trapped hundreds of meters beneath the surface. There is, unfortunately, a strong possibility that the miners have all lost their lives. The disaster comes only a few months after the May 2014 Soma coal mine disaster, the worst in Turkish mining history, where 301 miners lost their lives after an explosion.
At the time the country plunged into a massive trauma and the nation mourned its miners. There was strong public anger that forced the authorities to take new measures to step up mine safety and also provide more benefits and securities for miners. But since then, there have been several smaller disasters where we have regularly lost one or two lives. The incident in the central Anatolian town of Ermenek in Karaman province is the latest in a series of such disasters.
It is clear that no matter how the laws are changed, no matter what tough measures are introduced, as long as there is no curb to the insensitivity of the employers and industrialists to safety regulations, which they see as a threat to their precious, massive profits then all you do is to try and ease public anger, and with the continued irresponsible attitude of the mine owners even that is short lived.
In the latest incident the mine owners felt the new laws had put an extra burden on their finances and mining costs and thus told the miners they would not provide them with food and transportation money to and from the mines. Thus, while the law was intended to provide better conditions for the miners all it did was create new alibis for mine owners to further exploit the workers. They also said the six-hour maximum work period set by the state would be honored, but then the workers would not be given lunch or dinner brakes and would have to eat in the mine shafts to save time. Thus in the incident in Ermenek the miners were caught while eating their lunch when water flooded their mine. The government has to enlist highly paid inspectors who cannot be corrupted to investigate and inspect mines and take strict measures. Politicians and others should not try to act as intermediaries to save mines that have been punished.
Such measures should not be just limited to the mining sector. We see such irresponsible employers in several industries from constructions to ship building. We have seen such examples as workers plunged to their death in an elevator accident in Istanbul and in several other cases.
Technology used in mines and other work places will have to be like factories, construction will have to updated with speed and the government has to provide financial incentives.
The greed of the owners who seek windfall profits should be curbed and that can only be done with effective punishment and not with soft talk. If not, we will continue mourning our workers in several sectors for years to come and our record as the least secure labor environment will continue tormenting us.