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Vol. 78/No. 24      June 23, 2014

Turkish miners fight for safety:
‘Greed of money, not human life, is boss priority’
(front page)
Amid determined protests and widespread outrage over the deaths of 301 workers in a fire May 13 at the Eynez coal mine in Soma, Turkey, the Turkish government and courts have sought to deflect blame away from the government, by detaining some, mostly lower level, company officials, freezing the company’s assets and promising to enact safety regulations.

The Eynez mine has been sealed. Workers at two other state-owned mines in that town run by Soma Holding have refused to return to work until improvements are made and inspections show it is safe.

The fire dangers in the Eynez mine “were known by all the officials,” says a lawsuit filed against the company and the state-owned Turkish Coal Enterprises by Gamze Degirmen, whose husband Ismail Degirmen died in the mine. “Although stopping production and taking precautions for labor safety were needed, the defendants did not do so in order to reach the production target and make a profit.”

According to the lawsuit, Ismail Degirmen had warned the company two months before the disaster about unsafe conditions and frequent fires.

“It was well known that the safety conditions were poor at Eynez,” an underground miner at a nearby mine owned by Imbat said in a June 10 phone interview from Kinik. He did not want his name used to avoid reprisals from the company. Fifty-two miners from Kinik, a small farm village about a half-hour drive from Soma, died in the disaster.

“Even though where I work the safety conditions are a little better,” he said, “everything is of concern. You worry about the possibility of a roof collapse, a gas leak.”

Many workers suffer from black lung, he said. “I don’t know how many have died. They call it an ‘occupational disease.’

“When the greed of money is involved, that is always their priority, not human life,” he said. “Not only in Turkey, but all over the world.”

After the fire, some 1,600 out of 6,000 workers at Imbat refused to work, many of them relatives of the dead miners or from the same village. They wanted improved safety.

“But now they are going back to work,” he said.

Outrage over the disaster at Soma continues to grow as more information comes to light about the company’s and government’s disregard for workers’ lives. There was no safe room in the mine. Oxygen masks were antiquated. Fires and methane gas leaks were frequent. Government mine inspectors gave the mine a clean bill of health just two months before the explosion. Miners receive little, if any training.

The company owner bragged about producing more coal at lower cost after taking over operations.

The Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey, Confederation of Public Workers’ Trade Unions, the Turkish Medical Association, and Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects called a one-day strike May 15. Protest actions, strikes and sit-ins took place across the country from Edirne in the northwest and Zonguldak along the Black Sea to Diyarbakir in the heart of the Kurdish majority areas and Antalya province in the south.

The Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions, the largest union federation in the country, called on its members to stop work for three minutes a day for one week starting May 15 to protest this “new workplace murder.” Its affiliate, the Turkish Mine Workers Union, organizes many of the workers in Soma.

Eight officials of Soma Coal Mining Co. have been arrested, including CEO Can Gurkan, General Manager Ramazan Dogru and some mine engineers and two shift managers. No formal charges have been filed yet.

When Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Soma the day after the fire he publicly said that “accidents” are normal and “death is the destiny of coal miners” and was filmed physically striking a miner amid anti-government protests. But now the ruling Justice and Development party has put a bill before parliament that would limit the use of contract workers in the mines, reduce the retirement age, cut down work hours, and provide compensation for relatives of killed miners.

Yasemin Aydinoglu in Elmira, New York, contributed to this article.
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