Working conditions in gold mining differ from type, region and employer. But the conditions could generally be described as grave. Too many hours, poor safety measures and health conditions and forced labor.
The hard labor is not met with sufficient payment, people often work with day contracts. The life expectancy of goldminers is often a few years lower compared to the average local population. Working in extreme high temperatures, oxygen shortages and atmospheric pression by depth, causes respiration problems by a lot of miners. Resulting in long term effects as bronchitis, tbc and sylosis.
Due to the International Labour Organisation, 1 percent of the worldwide workforce is employed in the mining sector, a sector which causes 5 percent of the labor related deaths. Employers take insufficient safety measures within the mine and offer insufficient information on the risks of the job. Work pressure is too high with too few breaks. Often miners do not know which chemicals they work with and which risks there exist for themselves and the environment. Besides this, to have protective clothing during the work with dangerous substances, is often an illusion.
The working conditions in gold mines offer a great chance for accidents. As well as in the subsoil, as in artisanal and open-pit gold mining. Collapsing tunnels, falling rocks, fires and heaths are examples of the daily risks miners take. It is estimated that each year 15.000 persons die due to mining. In South-Africa, each ton gold costs one life and causes twelve gravely injuries. Indirect work accidents are being caused by chemical abuse and the release of heavy metals. More about this topic in Health problems.
Child labor is a big problem. Children are introduced in the production process because they can be paid less and do not stand up for theirselves as adults do. In November 2010, Médecins Sans Frontières accused an exploitation in the North-Nigerian city Anka of abuses. In a few months time, 400 children died in one village, due to lead poisoning. With the cutting and grinding of the ore, heavy metals came to the surface; lead in this case. The heavy metals reached the air and different watersources. Children started to complain about stomach aches and convulsions, finally resulting in death.
Low-scale and artisanal mining uses mercury to extract the gold from mud and/or ore. Twenty percent of the global gold production comes from artisanal and small-scale mining. In Surinam, iron ore is put into wooden washgutters and mixed with mercury, dividing the gold from the ore. The mercury vapors which are released, cause heavy damage to the central nerve system. With paralysis as a possible result.
Resistance is often met when miners want to establish unions. Mining companies simply forbid it or union leaders are threatened and refused labor. Mineworkers are often not able to stand up for their rights and improve their working circumstances. Almost all national governments support health and safety proscriptions for the mining industry. However, these laws are rarely applied. The International Labour Organisation forced governments with their since 1995 mandatory ‘Convention on Safety and Health in Mines’ , to control that employers minimize the health and safety risks of their personnel and publish publicly on this. Miners need to have the possibility to congregate. When mining companies do not comply with these demands, they need to close. Till now, only twenty countries agreed with the convention. Mining countries which did not: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Indonesia and Russia.