Following the recent disaster in a coal mine in Dukki, which led to the death of seven miners, Balochistan’s 60,000 miners are gearing up to launch a countrywide protest against injustices faced by labourers. Shamsur Rehman Swati, head of the National Labour Federation, has said that the campaign would be launched on 7th March after which a Labour Convention would be held on 10th March in Lahore that would demand safety and security measures at the workplace. Coal miners in Balochistan are forced to work under extremely difficult conditions which violate all standards including those set by International Labour Organisation (ILO). According to a report published in this paper, “hundreds of coal miners have died in about 150 explosions inside mines caused by the accumulation of Methane gas during last ten years.” Speaking on the issue, President Balochistan Geoscientist Association, Abdul Razaq Khilji, said, “The Mines and Mineral Department has failed to convince the mine owners, responsible, to establish a gas system particularly methane detectors and a proper ventilation system”.

There is also a problem in the legislation related to miners. The 1923 Mine Act proscribes a penalty of just Rs 40,000 and six months imprisonment for mine owners and contractors found guilty of committing violations that often lead to accidents and deaths of miners. Clearly, there is a need to introduce fresh legislation which covers all labourers , makes it mandatory for owners, contractors and relevant authorities to implement safety procedures and proposes strict punishments for violators. Be it the provincial or the federal government – everyone is aware of the hazardous working conditions coal miners are forced to work under but they have chosen to do absolutely nothing to rectify the situation because coal is apparently more valuable than the lives of people who dig it from the earth. How many workers have contracted respiratory and other diseases from work? How many bereaved families are still owed compensation? How are mine owners and contractors able to regularly defy laws and escape governmental oversight and accountability? All these questions must be answered. The blatant exploitation of miners and other labourers ought to be curbed. Making a living is hard, and it doesn’t have to be a walk in the park, but labourers in Pakistan are made to pay too heavy a price and receive far too little in return. Meanwhile, employers keeping growing richer along with members of relevant authorities who are supposed to keep a check on them and protect labourers from abuse. Alone, the miners cannot take on powerful owners and complicit members of the relevant departments. It is incumbent upon the people and conscientious lawmakers to join them in their protest and make efforts to rescue them from corrupt officials and greedy entrepreneurs.