Karachi: Najeef Shah, 73 now, moved to Karachi in early 1980s from a small village in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with his wife Riaz Pari, 69, for better life. They rented a small home in Baldia Town and started their new life. Shah became street vendor and started selling balloons to the school children.
Their life was comfortable. Six sons were born to them in coming periods. Five sons got married and started living with their own families but the old parents were living with their youngest son, Ubaidullah, who was working in Ali Enterprises, a garment factory in Balida town.
On September 11, 2012, Ubaidullah took the bus to the factory, leaving his father and mother at home. In the afternoon, the factory got mysterious fire and Ubidullah was one of the 289 workers who were trapped inside the factory and burnt to ashes in the fire which is one of the country's worst industrial disaster.
The body of Ubidullah was never recovered, Shah told Daily Times, hopping that one day DNA testing will return his son's remains to him.
On Sunday was the fifth anniversary of their son Ubidullah, but despite several announcements, Shah and his wife Riaz Pari didn't get compensation that was announced by KIK Textilien, a German firm that was the major buyer of the products being made in Ali Enterprises when it got fire.
"The KIK Textilien paid Rs 500,000 ($5,000) per family as interim relief but that money is with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and due to tussle over the way of distribution, the money is not paid to the victim families," said Nasir A Masoor, Deputy General Secretary, National Trade Union Federation Pakistan (NTUF), which affiliated with global union, the IndustriALL.
He said that ILO said that parents would get Rs 2800 monthly, while widow will receive Rs 11000 monthly. "Majority of the workers were young and unmarried, so the families say that parents must get more, due to which the compensation is pending with ILO," said Mansoor.
He further said that despite passage of five years, the mystery behind the sudden fire could not be resolved that how it got fire. "Initially, government said something in GIT and latter they nominated activities of MQM in the case, but when nominated MQM workers joined Pak Sarzameen Party (PS) the case were either withdrawn or they were not arrested," said Nasir Mansoor, adding that Baldia Factory fire case is being used as an instrument to divert the political affiliation of the workers.
Like Shah, Shahida Parveen, widow of Muhammad Akmal, who died in the fire, got some money but due to the lengthy procedure, she couldn't get the money. "I got Rs.500,000 two times, but I got only Rs 1,24,000 and the remaining money is lying in the court and they said that it would be paid to my three sons when they will be 18, but I need money now to feed them and use it for their education", she told Daily Times.
Despite such deadly industrial disaster, no safety at the factories is so far ensured. The factor workers are still facing prevailing worse health and safety conditions in the factories, despite provincial governments' assurance to ensure safety of workers following Baldia fire incidents.
Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), an NGO expressed serious concern on fifth anniversary of factory fire.
In a statement PILER expressed its resolve to struggle for safe work place in Pakistan. It demanded to ensure effective labour inspections of all work places under the Factories Act.
PILER pointed out that the fire incidence in Ali Enterprises occurred due to lack of occupational health and safety measures. All Exit points were closed down and people died inside the factory as they were trapped in the building. Ali Enterprise was an example but there are so many factories in Pakistan without compliance on the health and safety laws including effective labour inspection.
In Pakistan only one percent of labours are unionized, which means labours doesn't have the power to advocate for their rights, therefore, after the incidence of Ali Enterprises, PILER and other supporting organisations decided to file the petition in court. Some of the reports by government's bodies presented before SHC indicated that the Ali Enterprises garment factory was not registered with labour department, Sindh Social Security Institution, Employees Oldage Benefit Institution, SITE Limited, building control authority etc.
In the meantime, PILER came into contact with KIK Textilien, a German firm was the major buyer of the products being made in Ali Enterprises. The German and Pakistani media helped PILER to raise the issue in both Pakistani and Germany media. The Clean Clothe Campaign, a network of labour supporting organisations facilitated PILER's negotiations with KIK over immediate and long term compensations for the victims' families.
As a result an agreement between PILER and KIK signed in December 2012 and the company paid $1 million as immediate compensation. PILER approached the Sindh High Court, which constituted a Judicial Commission led by Justice (retd.) Rahmat Hussain Jafery to disburse the immediate relief amount. The Commission through a lengthy process scrutinized the claims and ascertained the share of each member of victims' families. The amount was later distributed among the victims through Sindh High Court's Commission.
As a part of the agreement with PILER, the KIK also paid USD 5.15 million as long term compensation for the victim families. For this purpose International Labour Organization (ILO) provided technical support in ascertaining the amount for long term compensation. Formal agreement was signed by the German retailer KiK, IndustriALL Global Union and the Clean Clothes Campaign on September 9, 2016.
The amount was later transferred in the accounts of ILO head office. The long-term compensation payment procedure is yet to be finalized by ILO office in Islamabad as initial meetings of the Oversight Committee for disbursement of pension/long term compensation to the victim families has already held in Karachi during August 2017.
It is hoped that the ILO in consultation with Oversight Committee will come out with the procedure of payment of long term compensation. The long-term compensation payment would be effective from January 2017.
Najeef Shah and his Riaz Pari, parents of Ubidullah, sitting in their home in Baldia.
Shahida Parveen, window of Akmal with her three children.
Noor Khatam father of Muhammad Asghar is suffering from paralysis.
Published in Daily Times, September 11th 2017.