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July 30, 2017

Demanding due rights


July 30, 2017

How lowly the status of the working class in Pakistan is can be witnessed by the fact that the much needed safety improvements in the Gadani Shipbreaking Yard have yet to come. Now, the Ship Breaking Workers’ Union of Gadani has given an ultimatum for their legitimate rights by August 1 otherwise they would launch protests and a strike. The shocking tragedy at the Gadani shipbreaking yard on November 1 last year, when almost a hundred workers were burnt alive, had led to questions over whether the tears and promises of the political leadership of the country meant that something substantial would change. Immediately, it became clear that no one was ready to take charge of the situation. The Sindh government put the responsibility on the Balochistan government, the Balochistan government pushed it onto the Sindh government as the federal government stood by and watched. Soon enough, the shipbreaking owners decided that they would restart work without seeking any approval and without implementing any safety measures.

All political governments stood by and watched as this happened. Even now, dozens of workers cannot be located with their remains said to have burnt inside the oil tanker that blew up. They have taken time but the workers have formulated demands, including a 50 percent increase in wages, one weekly holiday, a special code for employees, implementation of health and safety measures and registration with the EOBI and social security services. Moreover, the workers have demanded that the findings of the inquiry into the fire be made public. Why the inquiry report has not been made public is another serious question. It is simply disregard for the rights of workers that continues to demonstrate itself, despite this being one of the most challenging and dangerous forms of work being done in the country. This can be seen by the demand for ambulances on the site, with workers willing to risk their lives as long as adequate safety mechanisms are in place. The union claims that every day one or two workers are injured, some of them fatally, while working in the shipbreaking yard. If history is any guide, it seems workers will be left with no choice but to strike for their rights.

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