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Gadani shipyard workers to launch protest movement if demands not met by Aug 1

By our correspondents
July 28, 2017

Representatives of the Ship Breaking Workers’ Union of Gadani (SBWUG) and the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) have extended an ultimatum that in case workers of the ship-breaking yard are not given their due rights by August 1, they shall be compelled to launch a movement which could culminate in a strike.

The demands include a 50 percent increase in wages, one weekly paid holiday, drafting a special code for employees of the industry given its peculiar conditions, the requisite health and safety measures, registration with the Employees Old Age Benefits Institution (EOBI), and provision of social security cards.

Nasir Mansoor, deputy secretary general of the NTUF, said that no remedial measures had been taken after the ghastly fire at the Gadani ship-breaking yard on November 1, 2016, in which 30 workers were singed to death in an ex-oil tanker, which continued for five days, as there were no arrangements for anti-fire operations. 

He said the government of Balochistan instituted an enquiry but its findings were never made public or shared with the workers. “Not an iota of a thing has been done to remedy the situation between November 1, 2016, and today,” Mansoor said.

He reminded the mediafolk that the ship-breaking industry was contributing to the tune of 35 percent to the country’s steel rerolling mills. A hundred rerolling mills, he said, were benefitting from the ship-breaking industry. 

“The industry has been giving billions in terms of taxes. As such its importance could never be underestimated.”

He said there were no dinking water provisions at the yard. Ninety percent of the workers, added Mansoor, were suffering from various diseases, including pulmonary disorders on account of the asbestos that lay strewn around. 

All the force were skilled workers but there was no standard for determining their wages. Longstanding promises to provide ambulances had not been fulfilled either, he pointed out.

Mansoor further said that the proprietors had clandestinely formed pocket unions. Members of these pocket unions were all contactors who had become billionaires as they owned the trucks operating at the yard. They had even had a union registered in Islamabad which was a clear breach of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

He said that a philanthropist had donated two acres in the vicinity to build a hospital for the workers but despite a passage of a long time no hospital had been constructed for the workers and there were no signs of it. 

Mansoor said that a sign of a dispensary had been put up on the entrance to a house but there was no qualified doctor. The house, he said, belonged to the father-in-law of a member of a pocket union.

NTUF President Rafiq Baloch said that there was no change in the situation even after the tragedy. “We are being told that the government of Balochistan is constituting a body to redress matters without the participation of the workers,” he said.

Bashir Mehmoodani, president of the Ship Breaking Workers’ Union of Gadani, said that not a single promise extended to the workers after the November 1 tragedy had been fulfilled and even now one or two workers were being injured or killed daily in various accidents. 

Ambulances, he said, were being used for the purely personal errands of the employers or for the members of the pocket unions.