Mines are termed the black holes of the earth and it is no surprise that they suck in everything that comes their way; obliterating all remains. Over 440 miners have lost their lives in Balochistan alone in the last few years, according to government statistics. That is not just 440 individuals’ lives, but 440 families as some of these were the sole breadwinners of their families. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also expressed serious concerns about the inhumane conditions that miners have to work in – exploitative private contractors and missing legislative oversight has pushed the miners to their literal deaths, a constant fear that Salman and his family live in.
Salman is a middle-aged man and resident of the Shangla district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He is a coal miner and, as stated by his family, working on the edge of death every day. Long and tedious unregulated working hours, extreme weather temperatures, and life-threatening toxic gases are all a combination to kill the miners coupled with missing legislation for Occupational Safety and Health regulations (OSH).
With some of the world’s largest coal deposits, Pakistan’s economy is fueled by the “black gold,” but at a high human cost to those who provide the country’s energy demands. The government’s ineptitude and reluctance to enforce mining regulations in Pakistan is obvious, and it has severe effects. The overcrowded mining inspectorate system, which is the statutory custodian of coal mineworkers’ lives, is the most frightening and severe problem. The federal government is responsible for the laws and regulations, while the provinces are responsible for their execution.
Because the mining inspectorate is paralyzed, this approach exposes mineworkers to inconsistent and unequal enforcement of the law between provinces, with essentially no repercussions in the event of a violation. The mining inspectorate’s reports are ignored with no repercussions. There is no record of mineworkers who go down and then return to the surface. There is no national database of mineworkers either. Additional contributing elements to the carnage include the widespread and uncontrolled use of contracting, subcontracting, poor wages, a lack of safety and security, and inadequate recompense for families of mineworkers who die in the mines.
Salman is no exception to these exploitative practices. His family fears that he could be the next one dead only because there is no proper OSH framework.
Experts indicate that Pakistan’s refusal to ratify ILO C176, which lays the principal framework for miner rights comes at the expense of human life. The only legislation regarding mining enacted by Pakistan is the Mines Act, 1923- a century-old law that is no longer compatible with current technology and mining resources. The biggest drawback of the Act is that it does not allow for the worker’s right to report accidents or to implement OSH setups on their premises. To ensure the safety of mineworkers in Pakistan and to avoid future accidents, the C176 must be ratified along with the OSH agenda taken up by the government. Through that, the government can strengthen the Labour Departments for a thorough inspection and implementation of the few safety laws offered. The other important factor is recording real-time data of complaints and results which should be recorded- helping in the implementation and enforcement of OSH laws, giving out punishments for non-compliance, and compensation in the form of social security coverage and health benefits.
Salman is one of the many miners who live under the looming threat of death, with many who have already witnessed the deaths of their fellow workers. It is imperative to fill in legislative gaps for the safety of mineworkers in Pakistan, complying with all OSH frameworks.
 “Depths of Darkness.” Dawn. 29 Mar. 2022, https://www.dawn.com/news/1682346/depths-of-darkness.
 Death, Destruction and Destitution in Pakistan’s Coal Mines. 23 Nov. 2017, https://www.industriall-union.org/death-destruction-and-destitution-in-pakistans-coal-mines.