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Four industrial mishaps in six days give rise to calls for workplace safety measures

By our correspondents
September 26, 2017

Expressing grave concerns over a series of industrial accidents reported in Karachi within a span of six days, the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) on Monday demanded of the government make speedy efforts to ensure workplaces across Sindh have occupational health and safety measures in place. 

In a statement, Piler Executive Director Karamat Ali said a number of factories and buildings caught fire in the city, some severe enough to have claimed lives of workers. 

Only this past Sunday two fires were reported in the city. The first one erupted at a 14-storey building and was so severe that three floors, including two popular eateries located on the building’s ground floor, were gutted. The second was reported to have engulfed a cardboard godown located near Shafiq More. No casualties were, however, reported in the two incidents.

However, in an incident reported on Saturday, three workers died while a fourth is still stated to be in a critical condition, after they fell into the chemical tank of a fish processing factory named Inter Market Factory, in Ibrahim Hyderi. 

On September 20, one labourer died while another suffered injuries when a chemical storage of a cosmetic factory exploded after a fire erupted in the factory, located on Sharea Faisal. The blast was triggered by insufficient safety measures in the factory’s basement where the storage unit was located.

Piler claims the police authorities are manipulating facts related to the cause of the blast, as observed in similar previous incidents. On the same day, two more workers were burnt in a fire that erupted in a carpet godown in Lasbela, the statement maintains.

Pakistan has 9th largest labour force in the world and according to Labour Force Survey 2013-14, the largest segment of the country’s labour force is engaged in the agriculture sector around 42 percent, followed by the manufacturing industry with over 15 percent.

Out of the total agriculture workforce, around 48 percent of the labourers are exposed to occupational injury or diseases every year, whereas nearly 16 percent of the total manufacturing industry’s workforce is at risk of workplace accidents and diseases. 

Keeping in view the poor condition of workplace safety across the country, especially in Sindh, Piler demanded that Pakistan ratifies ILO Convention, C-155, (1981) concerned with occupational safety and health.

Moreover, the federal and provincial governments should ensure immediate compliance of international labour standards especially those related to occupational health and safety.

Ali observed that employers, especially factory owners, are least interested in investing in workplace safety arrangements despite the Baldia factory and Gadani ship-breaking yard fires – the two most severe industrial accidents to have occurred in the country. 

After the Baldia factory tragedy a Joint Action Plan on Occupational Health and Safety was signed between the government of Sindh, employers and workers’ representatives in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation in 2013. But the government never bothered to act upon the action plan it presented.

Sindh Provincial Law on Occupational Health and Safety was also drafted a couple of years ago but is still pending approval by the provincial cabinet. This shows that the issue of workers safety is not on the Sindh government’s priority agenda. 

While Pakistan did not ratify ILO Convention C-155, it did, however, ratify convention C-81, concerning labour inspections back in 1953. But owing to a weak labour inspection system across the country, factory owners to date do not comply with the health and safety standards. 

In July, 2015, the ILO and the Government of Netherlands signed an agreement to strengthen labour inspection system in Pakistan in relation to the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP Plus) status awarded to Pakistan by the European Commission in January, 2014, the statement further read.

Under this scheme the country that obtains a GSP plus status has to sign and implement 27 international conventions including 16 conventions related to labour compliance and 11 others related to human rights, good governance and environmental protection.

The first review of the GSP plus held in early 2016 revealed that Pakistan’s did not properly comply with the convention on both labour and human rights issues; the second review will be held in January 2018.