The Turkish government rejected a proposal by the main opposition party two weeks ago that sought to look into the frequent deaths at coal mines in the town of Soma, where a mine explosion on Tuesday has caused the deaths of at least 274 people so far in western Turkey.
The Republican People's Party (CHP) proposal sought to look into frequent explosions at the coal mines in Soma and to establish a commission in parliament to investigate the lack of safe working conditions at the mines. It was rejected on April 29 due to the votes of deputies from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
Süleyman Çelebi, a Republican People's Party (CHP) deputy and former head of the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers' Unions (DİSK), does not accept that the deaths of more than 200 hundred coal miners can be presented as an accident. “This is no work accident; this is work murder,” he told Today's Zaman.
Erhan Akçay, a Manisa deputy from the National Movement Party (MHP), also feels that the coal mine tragedy in Soma should not be considered a mere work-related accident, though he was seemingly cautious while answering Today's Zaman's questions over the phone and he refrained from calling the incident it murder.
It was in October of last year that, together with 51 other CHP deputies, Özgür Özel submitted the declined parliamentary question for a commission to be set up. The National Movement Party (MHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), whose deputies are now a part of the People's Democratic Party (HDP), also offered support to the CHP's proposal at the time.
For Çelebi, who is currently in Soma inquiring about the issue and offering his support to grieving families, the government is responsible for the tragedy since it has in past years refused to accept any of the CHP's draft laws to improve work safety in mines. He said: “If one of our proposals had been given consideration [by the government], there would have been no such accident that could claim so many lives.”
CHP's Özel, who took the floor at the Parliament session on April 29, complained during his speech about the insensitivity of the ruling party to the safety issues at coal mines in Soma, Manisa. Özel said the government had responded to previous parliamentary questions submitted by the CHP on frequent deaths in the Soma mines by saying it had so far conducted 10 inspections, had identified 66 faults at the mines and had issued fines.
But explosions and deaths at coal mines kept on coming, even after the government had responded to the Parliamentary questions concerning them, Özel also said at the April session. He maintained that the ruling party had close ties with some mine companies in the region and that it overlooked issues in the working conditions at the mines.
“There is a company called Uyar Madencilik (Uyar Mining Company), which entertains excellent ties with Manisa deputies [of the AK Party]. In mining, there are so many big problems and flaws [in working conditions], but [although] Uyar Mining was inspected many times, it was never fined until the latest accident [that took place in October last year]," the CHP deputy had said.
When Muzaffer Yurttaş, a Manisa deputy from the ruling AK Party, said at the same April 29 session that the ruling party had no relations with Uyar Mining -- which had closed down the mine where the accident took place in October -- Özel, taking the floor for a second time, responded: “Every time Uyar Mining underwent inspection, [officials of the company] went to take up the issue with the general manager of the TKİ (Turkish Coal Enterprises) accompanied by Manisa deputies [of the ruling party].”
Accusing the government of being responsible for the dozens of miners who lost their lives or were wounded in the past years in the company's coal mine, Özel said: “Although you [the government] identified 66 defects [in safety measures in the mine], you did not lifted a finger until thousands of people were killed and dozens were wounded.”
The MHP's Akçay, who is also in Soma to look into the case, is also not convinced that the government made efforts to take necessary measures against possible accidents at mines. “Safety measures were not sufficient [in the coal mine in Soma]. Neither were the [official] inspections. They [the government] say they carried out inspections, but [the inspections] were not efficient and did not serve their purpose,” he told Today's Zaman.
Safety in coal mines is a real issue in Turkey, and mining is one of the industries in Turkey where most deaths occur. Turkey ranks third in the world and first in Europe in the number of work-related accidents.
The public hospital in Soma, the only one in town, does not have a burn victim unit where burns can be treated. Miners who get burns have to be transported to hospitals in other towns in the region. “For this reason, many of those who were burned in the mines there [over the years] died on the way [to the hospital],” Akçay noted at the April 29 Parliament session.
AK Party rejects CHP proposal on mine safety weeks before Soma blast
CHP Deputy Özgür Özel submitted the latest parliamentary question on Soma.
May 14, 2014, Wednesday/ 19:10:31/ AYDIN ALBAYRAK / ANKARA