21 miners killed in Balochistan in the 1st half of January

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The Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation (PCMLF) and the All-Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation (APLF) jointly held a manifestation on January 13 at the Quetta Press Club to protest at safety inaction by Balochistan provincial authorities in coal mining, international union federation ICEM reports.

In the first half of January, at least 21 miners perished in roof cave-ins and methane gas explosions.

The federated mining unions expressed outrage that neither Balochistan authorities nor the Chief Inspectorate of Mines removed the bodies of five dead miners in the days following the tragedies.

On January 2nd, a gas explosion at the Al-Rahman mine near Marwar killed ten miners, including three Afghan workers.

The blast, which caused a cave-in, occurred 2,000 metres underground.

And then on January 11, two separate mine accidents occurred at the Habibullah Coal Mines Co near Spin Karez.

Three miners died when a roof collapsed, while eight others were trapped and killed following a blast at the mine in the Marwar coal fields.

Speakers at the unions’ January 13 protest said governmental authorities demonstrated ‘criminal silence’ over the loss of lives, as well as denouncing Balochistan officials for not extending financial assistance to the families of the deceased.

PCMLF Secretary General Sultan Muhammad Khan called it a travesty that miners are denied social benefits, and he said the fact that five miners from the first incident are still entombed at Al-Rahman ‘speaks volumes about the performance of the Mines Inspectorate.’

Other mine union officials that condemned the inaction, as well as the lack of preventative safety measures in the province’s mines included Bakht Maweb Yousatzai, Abdul Sattar, Syed Altaf Ilussain Shah, Muhammad Jamil, And Rehmatullah Baloch.

The mine union leaders said the average death rate in Balochistan coal mining, in southwestern Pakistan, had been 86 known deaths, but that this rate has increased of late because of lack of safety measures in mines.

Meanwhile, the ICEM is demanding that the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina intervene on behalf of 1,250 workers in the northern city of Lukavac.

The workers have had their pay slashed and are owed wage arrears by India-based Global Infrastructure Holdings Ltd, a subsidiary of the Ispat Group, owned by the Mittal steel-making family.

The company is the minority owner but manages a coke-chemicals enterprise called Global Ispat Koksana Industtrija Lukavac (GIKIL), which sells to steel mills throughout Central Europe, Turkey, and in India.

The local government of the Canton of Tuzla is majority stakeholder.

In a January 21 letter to Bosnia-Herzegovina Prime Minister Mustafa Mujezinovic and to Canton of Tuzla Prime Minister Enes Muji, ICEM General Secretary Manfred Warda – together with International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) General Secretary Jyrki Raina – called on both the federal government and regional government to ensure that restoration of previous pay levels dating to 2003 are restored, that wage arrears are paid, and that the governments be more vigilant on potentially serious health risks existing inside GIKIL.

The ICEM is pursuing justice for Lukavac workers on behalf of one of its affiliates, the Independent Trade Union of Chemistry and Non-Metal Workers of Bosnia-Herzegovina, said Warda.

The ICEM has probed Global Infrastructure Holdings, its parent, the steel-maker Ispat Group, and Pramod Mittal himself.

‘What we find is a history of depraved conduct placed on people in many countries and total disregard for global social standards, as well as statutes enshrined in European law.’

In Lukavac, workers have carried out lawful strikes twice in six months, laying claims to salaries owed to them.

Despite all workers taking membership in the union, GIKIL’s Indian managing director, Guttupalli Jagannadham, has bypassed the union in slashing pay to 55 per cent of previous earnings.

That level is below the minimum wage standard contained in the national collective agreement for chemistry and non-metals, and amounts to just above 200 euros per month (400 marka), putting it well under the minimum wage threshold for the sector in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Workers staged a strike from January 6th to January 14 after salaries had not been paid in October, November, and December 2009. During the strike, the October and November pay was made, but December salaries are still outstanding.

A mediated agreement that ended a three-day strike in July 2009 called on GIKIL management to honour the collective agreement, and pay all wages due by December 31 2009.

The ICEM and IMF also stated concern for workers health at GIKIL in the letter to the Bosnia-Herzegovina government.

The Independent Trade Union of Chemistry and Non-Metal Workers believes a number of workers have acute cases of cancer due to lack of safeguards around coke ovens.

In the joint letter, the combined 45-million-member ICEM and IMF cautioned the government not to lose oversight over labour-management relations at GIKIL.

We think this a mistake, considering the recent history of wage arrears, asset stripping, and general social deprivation brought by Global Infrastructure Holdings.

Meanwhile, in Nigeria in 2008, Kogi state steelworkers, over 500 Indian nationals, and many Ukrainian expatriate workers have protested due to ten months of non-payment of wages.

The Iron and Steel Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ISSSAN) counted 60 deaths among workers because of the lengthy pay arrears, including 21 suicides.

In April 2008, the Nigerian government revoked a privatisation contract it had with Global Infrastructure Holdings to operate the Ajaokuto Steel mills and Nigerian Iron Ore Mining Co, as well as Delta Steel, when it discovered the Indian company was cannibalising equipment and then exporting it.

Also in 2008 in Libya, where Global Infrastructure Holdings had a contract to manage Libya Iron and Steel Co Ltd, workers – including 120 Indian nationals in high-skilled jobs – went as long as seven months without pay.

In Bulgaria, Pramod Mittal and Ispat’s Global Steel Holdings bought 71 per cent of the country’s largest steel mill, Kremikovtsi Steel, in 2005, renamed it Finmetals Holdings, and the enterprise was declared insolvent in August 2008.

Lack of promised investment was the cause.

Mittal, the younger brother of ArcelorMittal Chairman Lakshmi N. Mittal, left a debt trail that included bondholders and huge sums owed to Bulgarian state utility NEC, gas company Bulgargaz, and railway operator BDZ.

Some 5,000 Bulgarian steelworkers also were not paid their wages on time throughout the latter half of 2008.

‘We take the breach of contract, failure to engage the union in social talks, and wage issues very seriously’, said Warda of the current Lukavac dispute.

‘Either the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina corrects the wrongs imposed on workers, or we carry this dispute to different levels.’