Priority to profits

Priority to profits

Almost a month after a landslide at a gold and copper mine in Chile caused a tunnel to collapse, entombing 33 miners about 700 metres below ground, the fate of the trapped miners hangs precariously on a thread. The miners were found to be alive only a week ago and the effort to rescue them has just begun. A half-metre wide shaft is being drilled to rescue them. This is expected to take between two to four months. Meanwhile, a narrow shaft has been opened through which they are being provided with food, water and medicines. A phone connection has been set up enabling them to talk for a few minutes with their families. Experts say that the extreme conditions, isolation and uncertainty that the miners are facing is far more serious than that encountered by astronauts who spend time in space. At the depth where they are trapped, the soil is moist and hot. Living in these conditions for months carries a serious health risk. Some of the miners have developed fungal infections and body sores; others are displaying signs of depression. During the months of shaft drilling, the trapped miners face the possibility of another collapse throughout the rescue process.

Several accidents have occurred in the past few years at the San Jose copper and gold mine. In fact in 2007, it had been closed but was reopened a year later. Did the employers address safety issues or did they quietly reopen the mines without doing so? Investigations must provide answers to why the disaster occurred and the lapses on the part of the employers.

This isn’t a situation that is peculiar to Chile’s mines. Across the world, including India, mines are dangerous places to work in not only because of the inherent dangers of going so deep below the ground but also mining companies are among the most exploitative, rarely committed to safety and security of their employees. With mining companies giving priority to profits over safety of people, and economising by cutting back on safety measures, mining accidents are taking place with shocking regularity. It is said that in 2009 alone, Chile, witnessed around 2 lakh workplace accidents, including 443 deaths. The disaster in Chile should serve as a wakeup call to governments across the world to secure worker welfare rather than encourage corporate greed.

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