Saturday March 02, 2024

‘Factory workers still toiling away in deathtraps’

By our correspondents
September 11, 2017

KARACHI: Marking five years since the deadly Baldia factory fire tragedy, the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) expressed serious concerns over unsafe working conditions prevalent in Pakistan’s factories despite the government’s assurances of ensuring safety laws are complied with at all workplaces.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the labour rights organisation observed that majority of the country’s workplaces do not have any health or safety precautions in place for workers. Over 250 workers employed at the garment factory, Ali Enterprises, in Baldia Town were devoured by the merciless fire that erupted in the factory on September 11, 2012. 

Piler expressed its resolve to struggle for safe workplaces in Pakistan and demanded that effective labour inspections are carried out at all factories under the Factories Act.

The labour organisation identified that the death toll in the factory fire manly rose owing to a lack of occupational health and safety measures as all exit points were locked. Trapped inside the building, the workers died of suffocation.

Ali Enterprise is an example but there are several other factories in Pakistan which do not comply with the health and safety laws including conducting effective labour inspections, the organisation observed in its statement.

In Pakistan only one percent of the entire labour force is unionised, which means labourers do not have the power to advocate for their rights. Therefore, after the Ali Enterprises incident, Piler and other supporting organisations decided to approach the high court, the organisation maintained in its statement to highlight efforts it put in to demand justice for the victims.

Some of the reports presented by government bodies to the Sindh High Court indicated that Ali Enterprises was neither registered with the labour department, nor with the Sindh Social Security Institution, Employees Oldage Benefit Institution, SITE Limited and even the building control authority.

Meanwhile, Piler also established contact with KIK Textilien, the German firm that bought Ali Enterprises’ major share of production. With the help of the German and Pakistani media, Piler managed to raise the issue in the two countries.

The Clean Clothes Campaign - dedicated to improving working conditions and empowerment of labourers in the global garment and sportswear industries - facilitated Piler’s negotiations with KIK over immediate and long term compensations for the victims’ families. 

Owing to the negotiations, an agreement between Piler and KIK was signed in December, 2012 and the company paid $1 million as immediate compensation.

The labour organisation then approached the SHC and got a judicial commission, led by Justice (retd.) Rahmat Hussain Jafery, constituted to disburse the amount.

The commission distributed the amount after a lengthy process of scrutiny that ascertained the claims and share of each member of the victims’ families.

As part of the agreement, the KIK then also paid $5.15 million as long term compensation for the families. For this purpose, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) provided technical support in ascertaining the amount for long term compensation. A formal agreement was signed by the German retailer KIK, IndustriALL Global Union and the Clean Clothes Campaign on September 9, 2016.

The amount was later transferred to ILO’s account. The long-term compensation payment procedure is yet to be finalised by the ILO office in Islamabad as initial meetings of the Oversight Committee for disbursement of pension/long term compensation to the victims’ families were held in Karachi in August, this year.

It is hoped that the ILO in consultation with the committee will come out with the procedure of payment of long term compensation. The compensation payment will be effective from January, 2017.