‘Workplace mishaps continue to occur due to negligence of stakeholders’

KARACHI: Workplaces are still unsafe since government, owners of industries and international brand units have learnt no lesson from Baldia Factory fire tragedy despite the passage of six years, said speakers of a event held in front of Ali Enterprises Factory in the memory of martyrs on sixth anniversary of Baldia Factory fire on Tuesday.

National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) and Association of Baldia Factory Fire Affectees, families of martyred and injured labourers as well as labour organisations attended the event.

The speakers said that due to criminal negligence of stakeholders workplace mishaps were occurring continuously. They said that socio-economic progress was possible only through following labour laws and improving working conditions for workers. They demanded that workers be given their basic and fundamental rights of making trade unions.

The speakers said that six years had already passed but heirs of martyred and maimed workers were still waiting for justice. They said that the affected families had approached local and international courts so justice could be delivered and they were still protesting against those responsible for the tragedy.

The speakers said that labourers were forced to work in worst conditions in factories and workplaces and there is no visible change in standards of their working condition. Resultantly, industrial accidents were being reported on almost a routinely basis. The speakers said that the dreadful recent incidents in ship breaking, mining and textile and garment factories were examples in this regard.

Addressing the gathering, the speakers said that Pakistan had become the sort of country where upholding labour laws and constitutional rights had become close to impossible. They added that the institutions formed by government for welfare of labourers had failed to discharge their duties and were fully safeguarding interests of employers. They said that working conditions in all industrial entities including garment and textile factories that make goods for international brands were worse than the conditions slaves had to face.

The speakers explained that owners of local factories, international brands and government departments related to labour had made an anti-worker nexus and hardly 1 percent of 68,000,000 workers were enjoying the right of making trade unions.

According to the speakers, in majority of factories skilled workers were not given even minimum wages prescribed by the government for unskilled workers. They asserted that in 95 percent of factories, contract system of labour still prevailed despite a verdict against it by the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP).

Speaking of the exploitation workers were subjected to, the speakers said that there was an unfair pattern of working hours in most factories under which there was a strictly set time of reporting on duty but no worker could leave the factory until factory administration permitted it. The right of social security and pension is available to 5 percent workers only, said the speakers.

The speakers regretted that all this was happing despite ILO conventions, GSP Plus and Global Framework agreements. The labour leaders further explained that international brands got their goods made in local factories and deceived their buyers by claiming that while no labour or human right was violated in the manufacturing process. They said that for this fraud they used private social audit companies which issued them fake certificates after getting money from them, claiming that these factories were respecting the international labour and safety standards.

The labour leaders said that the affectees of Baldia Factory Fire tragedy had organised themselves and with help of local and international organisations had exposed culprits. They said that with their struggle, they had compelled government to issue pension to heirs of martyrs and give them death grants. “They have also compelled German brand to pay $1 million compensation initially and then pay $5.15 million in the way of life pension,” said the speakers.

They said that the role of Clean Cloth Campaign (CCC), IndustiraAll Global Union, European Center for Constitutional and Human Right, Medico International, International Labour Organisation, German government, Sindh Labour Department and Sindh Employees Social Security Institution was praiseworthy.

They said that in next phase of their struggle, more than 500 affectees had prepared to file suit against Italian social audit company RINA and Pakistan as well as international organisations had jointly filed complaints against the RINA in OECD. They said that cases filed by NTUF for groups insurance and gratuity were in final phase.

They demanded that government of Sindh arrange jobs and residence for those affected by the tragedy. They also demanded that the affected factory be razed and a labour training centre be built there in the memory of those who lost their lives. The speakers demanded that Occupational Health and Safety Act passed by Sindh Assembly be implemented and labour standards be implemented in factories and industries especially textile, garments, ship breaking and mining sectors.

Like international accord, Bangladesh Accord, which was passed for improving working conditions after Rana Plaza Tragedy in Dhaka, such an accord should be made and implemented in Pakistan so that safety of workplaces should be ensured, said the speakers. They explained that those who signed on accord included Bangladesh government, labour organisations, noted international brands and human rights organisations. They said that after this accord, industrial mishaps decreased to a large extend.

Published in Daily Times, September 12th 2018.