ILO Director-General Juan Somavia expresses his emotion over the rescue operation of Chilean miners

The Director-General of ILO, Juan Somavia, has issued a statement expressing his emotion over the rescue operation to free the 33 miners that have been trapped underground for more than two months in the San José mine, in Chile.

Statement | Geneva | 13 October 2010

Statement by the Director-General of the ILO on the rescue of the Chilean miners

It is an emotional moment as the rescue of 33 Chilean miners proceeds and the world breathes a sigh of relief and admiration. Both as Director-General of the ILO and as a Chilean, I share joy of millions of people all over the world at the return of these heroes from the depths of the earth.

Behind this impressive achievement we have to admire above all the calm, courage, organization and love of life displayed by the miners. Their fortitude in the face of disaster, which has amazed us all, was a constant encouragement for the rescue efforts. They have my most profound respect.

No less exceptional has been the tenacity, the skill and the efficiency of all those from the public and private sector, Chileans and non-Chileans alike, who contributed their know-how to this great collective success.

My congratulations go to President Piñera, to the Government team and to the people of Chile. All the necessary financial, technical and human resources were made available so that life might triumph over adversity!

Above all, let us pay tribute to the solidarity shown by the miners’ families and the entire nation and to their confidence that what seemed impossible was indeed possible

The rescue of the Chilean miners has more than one lesson to teach us as we go about our daily lives.

We cannot allow ourselves to forget how this terrible drama began: a group of miners found themselves trapped underground simply because the safety measures in place were inadequate.

Safety at work is a core concern of the ILO.

In Chile the issue of safety at work is part of the joint agenda being pursued by the Government, employers and workers. The ILO, guided by the principles of decent work, will continue to collaborate with them in realizing the goals they set.

One way of honouring the bravery of these 33 miners and the worldwide concern for their safe return would be for Chile – for Chilean society as a whole – to become a world leader in occupational safety and health, espousing a cause which would bring honour to the nation.

The fact is that all too often the news from the world’s mines brings us tidings of death and disappearance.

By the ILO’s reckoning the mining sector employs around 1 per cent of the global labour force, and yet it generates 8 per cent of fatal accidents.

In many countries, mining carries the highest risk factor among those working in potentially dangerous environments.

Every day some 6,300 people die from occupational injuries or diseases, an annual total of more than 2,300,000 deaths; and to this a further 337 million accidents at work per year must be added.

Much remains to be done. Employment in unsafe conditions is a human tragedy, as we said during the commemoration of the World Day for Safety and Health at Work on 28 April this year.

Today more than ever we must take the utmost care that our economic adjustment and recovery strategies in the face of the current crisis do not set us on a hazardous course where human life and workers’ safety are devalued.

Too little is heard of this brutal reality that strikes so many millions of people year after year! It comes to us in brief news flashes with little call to action.

Perhaps one of the most significant contributions of the 33 Chilean miners is to have made the whole world that much more conscious of the need to ensure more safety, more protection, more prevention, more decent work, with the most urgent attention being given to work done in dangerous conditions.

Let us acknowledge this and be thankful that we have heard a universal appeal to our conscience for greater safety at work.

Juan Somavia


International Labour Office

Geneva, 13 October 2010