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Six miners died and three more were injured on Thursday morning in a coal shaft collapse in Tkibuli, in central Georgia. Four miners were killed in the same mine last May, causing outrage.
Six men who were working in a tunnel in the mine were killed after the roof collapsed, according to the Ministry of Economy. Three others were injured and have been rushed to hospitals in Kutaisi and Tkibuli. Two of them remain in a critical condition.
An investigation has been launched for possible violations of safety rules, and labour inspectors were sent to Tkibuli to examine the scene. Minister of Economy Dimitri Kumsishvili said he was also on his way to Tkibuli.
Saknakhshiri, the company which runs the coal mines in Tkibuli, issued a statement, saying they were investigating the ‘causes of this tragic accident’.
Saknakhshiri employs roughly 1,500 workers, mostly local residents of Tkibuli. It is part of the Georgian Industrial Group (GIG), a company with operations in energy, natural gas, and real estate.
GIG’s holding company, GIG Holding, is owned by an offshore company registered in the Marshall Islands, Chemexim International.
The General director of GIG Holding is Davit Bezhuashvili, who was an MP from 2004 to 2016 under the former ruling party, the United National Movement. His brother, Gela Bezhuashvili, Georgia’s Foreign Minister in 2005-2008, is a member of GIG’s council of directors.
Fatal occupational accidents
Last May, four miners were killed in the same mine, the Mindeli Mine, while trying to repair a lift in the shaft. The lift collapsed and the workers fell approximately 350 metres into the mine.
[Read on OC Media: Protesters clash with police after 4 miners die in coal shaft]
The incident caused outrage, with the Minister of Labour promising to introduce stricter labour legislation.
Another miner died in a coal shaft in Tkibuli last October, and the shaft he was working in when he was killed collapsed again the following day during an inspection by the Ministry of Labour.
Data obtained from Georgia’s Interior Ministry shows that in eight years — in 2010–2017 — 359 people were killed and 984 injured in occupational accidents.
Georgia’s Parliament adopted a long-awaited bill on labour safety this month after facing pressure from labour rights groups. The law mandates higher fines for employers violating safety rules, but these will only apply to 11 ‘hazardous’ sectors.
These are: transport, light industry, furniture manufacturing, glass production, heavy industry, the oil and gas industries, metallurgy, mining, construction, electricity, and chemical production.
The sanctions envisaged by the Law on Safety at Work will take effect after 1 August 2018.
The measures fell short of what labour rights groups had been pushing for, with the labour inspectorate still unable to inspect workplaces without prior consent from employers.