The issue of labour safety made a return to the headlines in Turkey with a mine “accident” on the night of November 17th. In an open copper mine in the war depressed south-eastern region of the country, 16 workers - truck drivers and operators of earthmovers – were buried by a landslide. Only 7 of the dead bodies could be recovered until now almost a week after the “accident.”
Right after the incident, rights groups, oppositional media outlets, left opposition parties, and ministers went to the village of Madenköy (mine village) in the district of Şirvan of Siirt province. Although officials were talking about a “sad accident”, as if it was a natural disaster, NGOs and the opposition parties pointed to previous such events in that mine, making it very likely that there was a lack of state inspection and neglect of the company. NGOs claim that this tragedy might have been prevented, saying that it was no accident, but rather what is called in Turkish “iş cinayeti” - “work murder.
A delegation from the NGO Sosyal Haklar Derneği (Association for Social Rights) visited the village at the weekend, inspected the site, and talked to workers and families of the victims of the incident. They reported that the rescue only began three days after the incident, when the Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, President Erdoğan’s son-in-law, arrived at the village. Can Atalay, a lawyer from the association observed during the trip that the investigation is not run properly by the local public prosecutor, that is, evidences are not gathered, no testimonies were taken from either any public officer although there is obviously lack of inspection, nor from the executives or officials of the company.
Reports indicate that a similar incident of slope failure happened four months ago. Nobody was hurt then as it took place during the day and the workers seeing it could run away. Nevertheless, the production had to stop for two months and the company was reportedly pressuring the workers to return to work even under dangerous conditions. The workers in the main company and four subcontractors were forced to work at least 12 hours a day. They have also recently warned the administration that fractures had occurred up to 80 cm on the slopes of the mine, yet the fractures were filed with mud and the work continued as before. Explosives instead of earthmovers were said to have been used despite the heavy rains just prior to the incident that might have contributed to the landslide. According to the Chamber of Mining Engineers, technical regulations were violated in the mine making the slopes of the mine pitch much steeper than the limit of 45 degrees. The chamber also stated that this mine, the biggest copper mine in the country employing over a thousand people, was never inspected by government authorities despite previous accidents.
The main company in the mine, Park Elektrik, is part of the Ciner Group, a holding also known for owning important media outlets including the newspaper and news channel Habertürk, the popular channel Show TV, and having a partnership with Bloomberg. Park Elektrik saw a tremendous 43 per cent rise in profits in 2015, at a time when copper prices were decreasing globally.
Park Elektrik also has past records of mine “accidents.” According to the report of the Assembly of Labour Health and Work Safety (İSİG), 10 workers died in the coal mine of the company in Elbistan in 2011, and the bodies of 9 of them could not be recovered since then.
According to a recent report of the CHP, the main opposition party in Turkey, nearly 20 thousand people lost their lives in Turkey in the past 14 years in such “work murders.” In the first ten months of 2016, 1596 people died in such incidents, making the country the first in Europe and third in the world when it comes to work related deaths.
Due to the fact that the mainly Kurdish populated regions are underrepresented in national media, especially after the government’s crackdown on media outlets and special access restrictions to the south-east since summer 2015 made the relatives of the victims ask “Where are the cameras?”. Yet support came from the relatives of the victims of the then well-covered Soma mine “accident” of 2014 whereby 301 miners lost their lives in the West of the country: Marching to the courthouse for the 12th hearing of the on-going trial a couple of days ago, the families were shouting “The pain of Şirvan is ours,” and “From Soma to Şirvan, the murderers are the same.”