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Activists blame government negligence, obstinate employers for workers’ deaths

By our correspondents
January 22, 2018

Criminal negligence on the part of government watchdogs and the adamant refusal of employers to provide health and safety measures have forced workers into an alley of death at workplaces, speakers at a protest demanding the implementation of labour rights said on Sunday.

Addressing the demonstration outside the Karachi Press Club, Nasir Mansoor, deputy general secretary of National Trade Union Federation, said that workers are continuously losing their lives and sustaining injuries at their respective workplaces – be it a factory, an office or a mine – due to a lack of health and safety facilities.

“According to the International Labour Organization, around 2.3 million workers are killed annually at workplaces across the world,” he said. “If the situation here is not improved then it would be no wonder that Pakistan may top that list.”

Workers from different industries, including ship breaking, mining and textile, attended the protest and held placards calling for their right to a safe and healthy work environment.

Referring to the 2012 Baldia factory fire incident in which 260 workers were killed and the 2016 Gadani oil tanker tragedy in which 30 workers were killed, Mansoor said that the government, employers and other relevant bodies seem unaffected by these incidents as the situation [for workers] has remained the same.

Bashir Mehmoodani, president of Gadani ship-breaking workers union, said that 10 more workers have been killed and dozens injured in similar incidents since the oil tanker fire two years ago as they continue to occur time and again. “The workers’ lives are still in danger,” he said.

Zehra Khan, general secretary of Home-Based Women Workers Federation, said that recurring incidents of fire at textile and garments factories could lead up to a Baldia fire-like situation, yet the employers and the government seems oblivious to the fact and are more concerned about running their business operations and earning profits than saving lives of workers.

She added NTUF and other labour organisations have been raising the issue workplaces are unhealthy, unsafe and in dire of need of health and safety reforms, but unfortunately, the concerned bodies apparently have learned no lessons from previous disasters.

Shedding light on the plight of miners, Zehra said that workers are killed almost daily there but because mines are located in far-flung areas these reports seldom make it to the news. She added that miners face similar perils as their fellow workers in other industries.

She appreciated the recent passing of the Occupational Health and Safety Bill by the Sindh Assembly but added that unless it is implemented it will only remain a mere document.

Other speakers demanded that labour laws be strictly implemented in factories and other workplaces, training of workers in dealing with emergency situations and use of safety tools should be mandatory, the occupation safety bill should be passed in all provinces and that private social auditing should be abolished and labour inspection should be made effective.