The employees of the fire-hit factory in Baldia were neither issued appointment letters, nor registered with the Sindh Employees Social Security Institution and the Employees’ Old-Age Benefits Institution, The News has learnt.
Most of the victims of the country’s worst industrial disaster were below the age of 35.
The factory, Ali Enterprises, was set up around 12 years ago on Hub River Road and the labour department had never bothered to take notice of the extreme violations of labour laws there.
Had a labour inspector once visited the factory, a case would have been registered against its owner. But that never happened. The owner of the factory, Dr Shahid Bhaila, is in his late 40s. He is a qualified medical doctor, but has left practicing medicine due to his business activities.
He is one of the country’s major exporters of garments, especially trousers, and a member of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industries. He is also a member of the Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
Bhaila was influential enough to keep the authorities concerned silent over the violations of labour laws at his factory, sources told The News.
He needed a consignment order ready before December for Christmas and was making his employees work overtime to avert the high cost of air freight.
It was also learnt that he had obtained a fake certificate from an audit company to satisfy the companies abroad that his factory met the required safety standards. In fact, he had not even bothered to have his workers registered with any social security institute. If he had done that, their death would have entitled their families to Rs500,000 in compensation from the Workers’ Welfare Fund.
Among those who perished in the massive inferno at the factory were pregnant women. They were entitled to maternity leave of three months had they been registered with a social security institute.
“A murder case under Section 302 should be registered against the labour minister and secretary and the industries minister for criminal negligence on their part in this tragedy,” demanded Nasir Mansoor, the deputy general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation.
“Due to the criminal negligence of the labour department, factories have become death-traps for the workers.”
Mansoor said the owner of the factory must have escaped from the country despite having his name placed in the exit control list. “He is likely to return only after the dust has settled.”
He said the victims of the fire were skilled workers, hardly earning Rs8,000 per month. “The factory had only one exit point, where the Seth had placed his merchandise, making it impossible for the workers to leave the death trap.”