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Number of Downlaods: 39

Published Date: May 1, 2001

Mine Workers: Working and Living Conditions (W-62)

Ahmad Salim
2001

Abstract

The paper discusses in detail the plight of the mineworkers and the working conditions in the mines in Pakistan. Explains how fatal accidents take place in mines due to insufficient safety measures; and how miners develop various diseases. It also elaborates the wage and the cruel contract systems in mines, which force miners to work, even in sub human conditions. The study says if a mineworker escapes death in a mine accident, he ends up losing his limbs. Sometimes, the dust contaminated with noxious elements that he inhales takes its toll. The mineworker contracts asthma, tuberculosis and other diseases and loses his eyesight. Hundreds of miles away from home and family, he is forced to live in a wretched and often shameful life. The study answers the questions such as why are such deplorable conditions prevailing and what may be the solution?

Fatal accidents in mines are a routine affair in Pakistan. Every year a large number of miners fall victim either to a collapsing mine or discharge of poisonous gases. The working conditions in mines are so precarious that such deaths fast becoming a norm rather than accidents. The working conditions reduce the miners to walking zombies within four to five years. If a worker escapes death in a mine accident, he ends up losing his limbs and is forced to live on charity. If he is lucky to evade accidents, the dust contaminated with noxious elements that he inhales, takes its toll. Having given five or six best years of his life, he contracts asthma, Tuberculosis (TB) or some other such diseases. Starting with a recurrent headache, he loses his eyesight. If he survives all these hazards — the chances of which are very rare — the problems of bread and butter, shelter and clothing are always there to make his life a living misery. The sub human conditions, he works in, is not the whole story. Hundreds of miles away from home and deprived the comforts of a married life, he is forced to live in wretched and often shameful life.

The question arises, why are such deplorable conditions prevailing and what may be the solution? The life is tough for every industrial worker in Pakistan irrespective of the field of activity. But in mining sector it is hellish. The improvement in the condition of mine workers is linked to the improvement in the mining industry itself. But it is not so simple. Contrary to the fact that the conditions are not ‘better’ for the mining industry, the mine owners and the contractors are making millions of rupees and have no intention to give up what they claim the “profitless profession”.

In early 1980s, a seminar was held in Peshawar for promotion of the mining industry. A representative of mine owners, himself an important figure of the industry, was anxious only to push his one point agenda, i.e., increase in production of coal, rebate in taxes and doing away with customs duty on the machinery imported for mining. No doubt, with the increase in production through these measures, the wealth of mine owners would certainly register an appreciable increase. True that these concessions would accelerate mining activity. It is also true that improvement in the working conditions of the miners is dependent on the betterment of the mining industry as a whole. Granted that a crash programme is imperative to bring about a positive change in the industry. But we understand that the pitiable plight of the mineworkers is an inevitable product of the dismal state of the mining industry itself. On top of it, the government has not come up with a clear mining policy. The upshot is that, in mining, about 16-17 agencies of public sector are busy doing the same thing and the poor miners have to pay heavily for their negligence in this field at the national level.

Before we analyse working environs, accidents, diseases and living conditions of the miners, it would be better to take into account the overall system which perpetuates the miseries of the miners, and also impedess the progress of the mining industry itself. Take the coalmines of Dandot for instance. In most of the cases, there is no direct contact between the worker and the mine owner after the mining lease is secured. The following three conditions are possible:
1.    Mine owner himself is involved in mining
2.    He gives a mine to a raising contractor who charges from him a certain amount per ton of coal. The contractor is responsible for all arrangements including dealings with the workers.
3.    The owner sub-contracts the mine to a petty contractor for per ton commission. Now the petty contractor has the right to excavate from the mine as much coal as he can.

The last arrangement is the worst. In this case, the petty contractor gets the selling rights of the coal excavated. He resorts to a senseless excavating frenzy in order to sell as much coal as he can. In this mad race, even the barest safety measures are ignored. In the privately owned mines, petty contracting is the major cause of accidents. The contractor mints money in two ways. He extracts maximum work from the workers at the lowest possible wages. Secondly, he is shown on papers as a raising contractor instead of a petty contractor to evade income tax. For instance, he claims that he is charging Rs. 300 per ton for raising and paying Rs. 275 to the workers. This way his declared income is only Rs. 25 per ton. In reality, he only gives a fixed amount per ton to the owner and pockets the entire sale. Because, officially, he is only a raising contractor and not a petty contractor, he escapes the tax net. Millions of rupees in tax are evaded this way.