Turkey not adopting int’l convention blamed for Soma disaster

Turkey not having ratified a significant international convention on safety and health in mines stands as another form of negligence after the country’s deadliest mining disaster in Soma, a district of Manisa province.

More than 283 miners were killed and 80 injured in an explosion and fire that broke out at a coal mine in western Turkey on Tuesday, making it one of the world’s biggest mining accidents. Most of the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. Rescuers have desperately been racing against time to reach the 150 miners still trapped underground.

After the death toll started to rise, claims emerged that negligence was a major cause of the disaster in the coal mine.

Among the significant number of claims of negligence, Turkey not ratifying the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) convention concerning safety and health in mines that dates back to 1995 and entered into force in 1998 has raised questions in the minds of many over whether Turkey carried out its duty and responsibilities regarding the applicable international law.

Chairman of the Mining Engineers Chamber, a Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects’ Chambers (TMMOB) affiliate, Ayhan Yüksel told Today’s Zaman Turkey has signed many agreements and conventions to date but he said the main problem is that these submissions have not entered into force.

“Turkey has signed many agreements and conventions. However, the important thing is not Turkey signing conventions but complying with international norms. Even if Turkey adopts the convention, the problem will continue to exist. Our many laws are in line with international norms; however, the fact that these norms have not been entered into force continues to be Turkey’s main problem,” Yüksel told Today’s Zaman.

In a statement released on Wednesday, ILO General Director Guy Ryder also drew attention to safety in mines. He said the tragedy in Soma is a reminder of the “paramount importance of occupational safety and health” in the mining sector. “The ILO stands ready to provide continued support to ensure the safety of workers in line with international standards and to prevent future accidents,” Ryder said in the statement.

The convention that Turkey has not yet adopted imposes important responsibilities on mining companies and governments. The convention has so far been signed by 28 countries around the world, including the United States, Russia, Germany, Armenia, Albania, Lebanon, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The convention stipulates employers to take all the necessary measures to eliminate or minimize the risks to safety and health in mines under their control; take measures and precautions appropriate to the nature of a mine operation to prevent, detect and combat the start and spread of fires and explosions; and ensure that when there is serious danger to the safety and health of workers, operations are stopped and workers are evacuated to a safe location.

The convention also grants miners the right to freely and without prejudice notify the authorities and mine management of unsafe conditions. They have the right to call for expedited inspections or investigations and to have full access to all information and data concerning mine health and safety. They also have the right to leave a mining operation in the event of serious risk. In addition, worker representation backing these rights is guaranteed.

Yüksel says the convention is not a random agreement but an ILO convention, underlining that it is necessary for Turkey to adopt the ILO convention in order to meet international standards.

“ILO norms are contemporary norms that should be adopted around the world. If this convention was adopted, the reports on Turkey’s job security would be much more optimistic,” Yüksel stated.

Turkey has had the highest number of deadly mining accidents over the past three years, ahead of China, according to data from ILO. Over the past 31 years, 14 mining accidents have occurred in Turkey, with the latest one being the mine blast and fire in Soma, which has killed at least 238 miners.

Mining accidents are common in Turkey, which is plagued by poor safety conditions. Coal mining is responsible for more fatalities than the production of any other energy source due to poor working conditions in producing countries such as Turkey, China, South Africa, Indonesia and Colombia.

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About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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