Tuesday July 16, 2024

Working in safety

By Editorial Board
December 19, 2022

Workplace safety has always been a neglected area in Pakistan. Which is why the expected launch of a comprehensive Workplace Safety Programme (WSP) is welcome news especially for the garment and textile industries. Since the mainstay of our economy has been textile, such a programme is likely to be a boost. It has been observed that Pakistan’s garment and textile suppliers do not necessarily follow the workplace safety protocols that should be in place in all industrial concerns. Other developing countries such as Bangladesh also had lax compliance levels in the past but they have improved of late as signatories of the Workplace Safety Accord. The WSP for Pakistan is being launched by those that have signed up to the International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry, and will provide an information package that will be helpful as a guiding document to be signed in Jan 2023.

Pakistan has seen multiple incidents in which workers’ safety was compromised, and each such incident proves that the country needs to comply with workers’ safety protocols. It is not about safety alone; health issues triggered by hazardous and unhygienic conditions are also a major issue. Hardly any private business or factory offers a comprehensive health package to its workers. If they fall ill or sick, they are left to their own devices even if the disease or illness is caused by the unhealthy working conditions. The new programme aims to cover just 500 factories so there is definitely a need to expand the programme to encompass the thousands of industrial concerns across the country. This accord also confines itself to Sindh and Punjab alone and needs to include other provinces too. It is true that Punjab and Sindh have the major share of Pakistan’s garment and textile exports and manufacturing, but other industries in more provinces must be included.

In the absence of a potent trade union mechanism, workers across the country are deprived of their collective bargaining rights too. Some civil society organizations have been working for the welfare of the workers but their outreach and impact is limited. The country needs a robust culture of collective bargaining in which they can put forward their demands and assert their rights. Pakistani industrialists and the concerned government authorities have a lot to learn from other countries especially from Bangladesh that has been cited as a successful example of how to turn things around in the industrial sectors in terms of workers’ safety. In addition to independent safety inspections, Pakistan also needs a mechanism to identify fire and electrical safety protocols which are mostly violated in small scale industries and home-based manufacturing units. A proper complaint and redress mechanism where workers can lodge their grievances and violations of safety protocols should be an ideal first step in ensuring workers take a step towards safer workplaces.