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Vol. 78/No. 46      December 22, 2014

Turkish miners fight for wages, job safety
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The Soma Holding Company, whose contempt for safety led to the deaths of 301 miners from carbon monoxide poisoning at its Eynez coal mine in May, fired 2,831 coal miners in Soma, Turkey, Nov. 30. Besides Eynez, Soma also owns the Ata Bacasi and Isiklar mines.

According to Today’s Zaman, a website providing news from the Turkish media, the company shut the Isiklar and Ata Bacasi mines because of an explosion. Then miners got text messages from the company telling them they were fired. The bosses said it “is not able to pay the salaries of the workers that are not working.”

“We have to fight for our salaries month by month,” Ali Sogut, one of the fired miners from the Ata Bacasi mine, told the Militant in a phone interview.

Thousands of miners in the area protested Oct. 27 demanding months of unpaid wages, Sogut said, and police attacked the demonstration.

“They physically attacked miners with sticks and clubs, sending three miners to the hospital,” Engin Kursuncu, who works at the Imbatt mine, told the Militant.

More than 500 miners began a march to Ankara Oct. 28. That same day, a flood trapped 18 miners at the Ermenek coal mine, 250 miles south of Ankara.

“We had walked 13 miles, but when we heard about the flood we stopped to discuss what to do,” explained Sogut. “Most went back to Soma, but hundreds changed direction and started marching to the area where the flood happened. Then the police blocked us.” Eighteen died at the Ermenek mine.

As a result of these protests, Sogut said, the government paid the miners’ salaries. But a few days after the mass firing, Soma Coal Enterprises said it would not provide severance pay.

Some 4,000 miners were laid off in September by the Yildiz Madencilik mining company in the Black Sea province of Zonguldak, the center of coal mining in Turkey. The mine bosses said the layoff was because a new mine safety code adopted by the Turkish parliament was bankrupting them.

The mining disaster in Soma May 13 led to widespread protests and outrage over the response by the Turkish government and mine officials. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the deaths of the 301 men as “usual things” when he visited the area. Photos of Erdogan’s aides kicking demonstrators fueled the protests.

Can Gurkan, CEO of Soma Coal Enterprises Inc., who claimed the Eynez mine was “a first class workplace,” was arrested May 20 along with seven other mine executives on charges of “causing multiple deaths by negligence.”

A September report from the Soma public prosecutor on the mine disaster — the worst in Turkish history — pointed to gross negligence leading to the deaths, including inadequate ventilation, flammable equipment, defective gas masks, lack of gas sensors and other serious safety violations.

On Nov. 5 prosecutors announced they were seeking life imprisonment for eight mine executives, including Gurkan, and two to 15 years in prison for 29 others. On Nov. 25, a Turkish court threw out the indictment.

Manisa Bar Association Chairman Zeynel Balkiz announced that another indictment would be submitted within a month.

Meanwhile, Energy Minister Taner Yildez told reporters in Ermenek that a preliminary report said the flood was caused by water built up over years in older sections of the mine. Three mine owners have been detained as result of the investigation.

The miners’ protests have called attention to the fight for safety in Turkey. The Economist reported Nov. 29 that 14,455 workers have died in industrial accidents there since 2002.

Yasemin Aydinoglu contributed to this article.
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