Turkish parliament's planning and budget commission head Recai Berber has said the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF), a government institution, will start to pay compensations to the Soma coal miners who were victims of Turkey’s deadliest mining disaster on May 13, 2014.
Berber, an AK Party (Justice and Development Party) deputy from Manisa in which Soma is a district, said to the Anadolu Agency that the TMSF will pay the Soma workers their compensation in four partial payments.
Manisa governor Erdogan Bektas announced on his social media account that the first partial payment will be paid on June 3 after 5:00 PM.
The disaster claimed the lives of 301 people in the western town of Soma. It has been asserted that the disaster was the worst mining accident in the world in 40 years, and the 19th worst in world history. The calamity shocked not only Turkey but also the international community.
An explosion started a fire 2,000 meters below the surface and filled the mine with toxic gas. Most of the deaths at the mine were due to carbon monoxide gas poisoning according to an official autopsy report released last November.
The report said carbon monoxide produced by the fire met fresh air from an inlet, fuelling a greater blaze. This spread to the mine’s third and fourth corridors - causing bands, timber supports, pipes and electric cables to catch fire.
Water and other attempts to extinguish the blaze produced more deadly poisonous and suffocating gas, the report also claimed.
There were over 780 workers underground at the time of the disaster, and it occurred at the same time as the miners’ shift change.
The mine is operated by the privately-owned Soma Coal Mining Company, which has been accused by the victim's' relatives of prioritizing production over safety. Angry families have also slammed the authorities, accusing them of insufficient inspections and of operating under an inadequate legal safety framework.
Following the accident there were fierce protests against the government and the operators of the coal mine.
Lawyers representing survivors and miners’ families claimed that there were 4,000 workers working at the facility, instead of the recommended number of 2,000, with insufficient security and safety investment.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was prime minister at the time, said in a visit to the disaster area that "no one would be able to cover up this painful incident."
Eight people, including the chief executive of the company who runs the mine, were arrested on May 20, 2014 are in custody, standing trial on charges of first-degree murder. They could each face 20 to 25 years in prison if convicted of each of the 301 counts against them.
However, in December 2014, the labor contracts of 2,831 Soma workers were cancelled and they were fired because the mine was completely closed. The workers have also not received any compensation package since the abolishment of their contracts.
The workers decided to walk to Ankara, the capital of Turkey, and organise sit-in protests in Soma in order to protest the situation and not having received their redundancy payments for six consecutive months.
Berber said that the Soma mine company will not be able to pay the compensation because its assets were taken under government control. He said an article connected to the compensation issue was added in the new “Health and Safety Law” enacted by the Turkish parliament on April 23 before the first anniversary of the disaster.
The TMSF will primarily pay the workers according to the new law and setoff the partial payments with the company’s assets, he added.
The new law brings new requirements, including a "shelter room" where miners can go if there is a subterranean accident. It bans a mining company from public tenders for two years if an accident is classified as the fault of the employer.
It also says mine companies will need to pay a 500-lira ($190) fine for each of their workers who do not have the right training to work underground.
It is expected these new measures will require greater government scrutiny of the mining sector.
Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said, "With Turkey's new draft mining law, state-owned underground coal resources will be shared only by licensed investors," speaking at a press conference in January.
Mines and stone quarries appear to be some of the most dangerous places for Turkish workers, according to government statistics.
More than 3,000 people have died and more than 100,000 have been injured in mining accidents since 1941 in Turkey, figures from the country’s official statistics agency reveal. International Labor Organization (ILO) figures indicate that Turkey ranks first in Europe and third in the world for fatal workplace accidents.
The ILO says 18 insured laborers out of 100,000 die every year in Turkey due to in work-related accidents across all sectors. This is seven times greater than the EU average.
Turkey produces around 70 million tons of coal annually, and ranks 12th in the world for coal production.