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Turkish miners conduct hour-long strikes in wake of Zonguldak mine catastrophe

Members of one of ICEM’s Turkish mining affiliates, Genel Maden-İş, staged one-hour strikes across several collieries in the coal-rich Zonguldak region on 26 March in protest to government inaction over unsafe conditions in mining, as well as to government treatment of 12,000 of TEKEL, the former state tobacco company that was privatised.

The one-hour strike actions, more specifically, were aimed at the horrid working conditions that caused the tragedy inside the Karadon mine, where 30 contract workers were killed on 17 May. The mine is owned by the Turkish Anthracite Coal Foundation and operated by Yapitek Construction.

Genel Maden-İş, or the General Mine Workers’ Union of Turkey, which represents miners in the Zonguldak region, carried out stop-work actions for one-hour periods in each of three shifts on 26 May in scores of collieries in the Black Sea region of Zonguldak. Some 10,000 miners participated. The ICEM Executive Committee, meeting in Geneva, endorsed the strikes, calling the downing of tools a fitting response to the government of Turkey’s non-response to repeated calls to ratify ILO Convention 176, the Safety and Health in Mines Convention.

Mustafa Kumlu, President of the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions (TÜRK-İŞ) and an ICEM Executive Committee member, said the mining industry is indispensible in Turkey, and it is the responsibility of employers and the government to reduce the risks to a very low minimum.

Genel Maden-İş General President Rasim Muslu said adoption of the 2004 Mining Law in Turkey set safety in mines back, since the law opened up the mining sector to increased privaitisation. Introduction of flexible work conditions has led to inadequate training of unskilled workers, and lax safety inspections, many of which are never done on-site. The law also has brought an increase in temporary and part-time contract miners.

At the ICEM’s Executive Committee meeting, the president of another Turkish mining affiliate, Türkiye Maden-İş President Ismail Aslan, a substitute ICEM Executive member, said obstacles inside Turkey to effectively organise workers into unions also contribute to unsafe conditions inside mines. He said it is unheard of for sub-contract employees to be affiliated to a union.

The explosion at the Karadon mine, a colliery whose operations were privatised in 2006, could have been caused by dynamiting new sectors some 540 metres underground. The blast collapsed walls and support structures. Rescue efforts did manage to free eight miners.

Emotions in the mining community were set aflame upon the visit on 19 May by Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Speaking at the mine gates, Erdogan callously declared that mine deaths had become the “fate” of mining communities, with people of the Zonguldak region “quite used to events like these.”

The remarks triggered clashes between distraught relatives, protesters, and police. (31 May 2010)