The Tragic Growing Death Toll of Chiatura Mines
26 November, 2015
The Tragic Growing Death Toll of Chiatura Mines
A killer profession – More than 500 people have perished in the Chiatura mine in the last 85 years.

Two people were heavily wounded in an explosion that occurred in a mine in Chiatura last week. Although their lives were saved, Tariel Bitsadze, 50, went blind in one eye, and his colleague Zurab Gamezardashvili, 26, lost his eyesight completely. Both suffered heavy burns.

The exact reason for the incident has not been determined yet, though it is known that the
explosion took place during the demolition works conducted within the mine – apparently, one of the sixteen blaster charges laid at the site misfired, exploding only after the workers approached to check what was wrong with it. A detailed investigation of the incident is underway.

Chiatura region is very rich in manganese deposits, with the majority of them located in the gorge through which the Kvirila River flows. At the moment there are 20 active manganese pits in the region; nine of them are mines and eleven – open quarries. According to official statistics, incidents and violations of safety regulations led to death of 245 and injury of 475 people in the mines in the last six years. If we start counting the death toll from 1930, when the Soviets established the Chiaturmanganese Trust, we will discover that more than 500 mine workers perished since then.

Despite these terrible statistics, open discussion of working conditions in Chiatura’s mining facilities is hampered by many factors, the first of them being the lack of alternatives when it comes to job seeking. As locals themselves explain, the mines provide the vast majority of the region’s very limited number of workplaces and are pretty much the only way for most locals to sustain themselves.

This lack of alternatives makes the desperate miners agree to any conditions put forward by their employers. They cling to their jobs very tightly, to the point of not even wishing to discuss them; in fact, Gocha Guruli turned out the only miner whose tongue Georgian Journal managed to loosen.

“The tech we use in the mine is completely haywire – it may work for three days a week and break down on the fourth. Besides, we constantly have to deal with poisonous gases. This is why we constantly ask for improvement of working conditions and a safe environment, but no one pays attention to our requests. For me, every single workday means being one step closer to death, and no one can give me a guarantee that I will emerge from the mine alive by the end of the day and not be carried out instead. To tell you the truth, I have more or less come to terms with this fact already – whatever puts bread on my family’s table is fine by me, which will definitely no longer happen if I quit this job. The only place one can find employment in Chiatura nowadays is the mines,” says Gocha grimly.

By specialists’ estimates, Georgia’s labor safety field has been allowed to go completely uncontrolled in recent years, along with its production processes. The Technical Supervision Institute, a body responsible for exercising necessary control, was disbanded in 2009. Today, our government (embodied by the Ministry of Economy in this case) only reacts to workplace accidents post factum. In addition, manufacturers no longer have a legal obligation to create investigative commissions in order to gain insight into accidents that have dire consequences (such as heavy bodily injury or death) or have a trade union representative as a member of these commissions. As of now, only the Ministry of Interior investigates such accidents.

Despite the changes made to the Labor Code, the question of workplace safety and health of Georgian workers remains open. The code obliges the employer to create a safe environment for employees, but the consequences of not doing so are not outlined; neither is workplace safety controlled in any way.

Out of 182 member countries of the International Labor Organization, Georgia is the only one that does not have an effective labor inspection service or other entity that would perform a similar function.

Author: Rusudan Shelia

Main Photo by Democracy & Freedom Watch

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