Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has promised to protect miners who draw attention to unsafe working practices.
Mr Pinera made his comments during his visit to the UK less than a week after 33 miners were rescued from the San Jose mine. He claimed that the mine’s owner, San Esteban Primera, was to blame for the accident as it had failed to follow safety regulations. But he accepted his Government should shoulder some of the blame for failing to ensure that the mine complied with the regulations. He subsequently vowed that his country would do “whatever is necessary to have a more secure mining industry”.
He also accepted criticism that some of the miners had been unwilling to speak out over safety concerns prior to the accident, as they feared it might lead to them losing their jobs.
The President has come under increasing pressure from trade unions to ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 176, which would commit his government to enforcing safety regulations and offering protection to whistle-blowers.
Mr Pinera told the BBC that he intends to ratify the Convention and said he believes that there is no longer a culture of fear among mine workers. He said: “We have initiated a country effort to create a new treatment in terms of how to protect the lives, integrity, dignity and health of our workers. If we want to be a developed country, we need to develop first world standards.”
The Unite union has described the President’s commitment to improving his country’s safety culture is a stark contrast to the British government’s stance. The stinging criticism follows the publication of Lord Young’s review into health and safety, which Unite slammed for not containing a single proposal to reduce workplace injuries.
The Union’s health and safety officer, Rob Miguel, said: “The visit this week by the Chilean prime minister is a stark reminder of the importance of safety at work.
“It is galling, then, that only hours after the 33 were freed, Lord Young takes on his role as warm-up act for the health and safety cutters in this country. He appears to have no awareness of the problems of occupational disease, and seems to have ignored all the evidence received from experts and unions.
“Everyone has the right to work in a healthy, safe environment. Sadly, this report is a missed opportunity to improve safety at work – but we certainly cannot let it usher in an era of even poorer standards.”
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