By Jacob Sanchez
Mexico City, Aug 17 (EFE).- Two weeks after the accident that left 10 workers trapped in a coal mine in the northern state of Coahuila, the agony of the families of the missing men continues while the Mexican government reaches out to the United States and Germany for technical assistance with the rescue effort.
The cave-in at Sabinas on Aug. 3 stunned residents of the nearby village of Agujita and left the miners’ families in both emotional and economic distress.
The situation of mining communities in Coahuila is difficult because most of the workers exploiting small coal deposits are outside the formal economy, labor law expert Manuel Fuentes told Efe.
The majority in miners in Mexico lack employment contracts and are not registered with the IMSS social insurance agency, making it difficult if not impossible for families to claim pensions or other benefits if the men are killed on the job.
Though some miners can earn up to $302 a month, the few miners’ widows who qualify for a pension receive as little as $72 a month, according to Fuentes.
And in the event that any or all of the workers trapped in the Sabinas mine dies, any attempt by the families to obtain compensation or – if negligence is shown – damages would come up against obstacles.
The legal process would take at least three years and the journey from Agujita to the nearest town where a case could be filed involves a five-hour bus ride that costs the equivalent of $25, Fuentes said.
“The position that the Mexican state should maintain is to close these workplaces because, ultimately, it’s obvious that in the face of a phenomenon of nature (such as a collapse), the great disadvantage of the worker laboring in those sites is manifest,” he said.
Fuentes recounted that on Feb. 18, he and Cristina Auerbach, director of the association representing the kin of the 65 people who died in 2006 in an explosion at the Pasta de Conchos coal mine in Coahuila, submitted to the International Labor Organization a complaint about shortcomings in Mexico’s regulation of mining.
The document faults the government for failing to conduct safety inspections at mines and criticizes state-owned electric utility CFE for not requiring adherence to safety and labor standards of firms seeking to sell coal for power plants.
Auerbach and Fuentes based the complaint on a June 2021 accident at another mine in Coahuila that resulted in four deaths.
That tragedy, which saw a precarious wall collapse allowing water to flood the mine, “is the same story as what happened here (in Sabinas),” Fuentes said. EFE jsm/dr