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September 14, 2019

Justice for Baldia


September 14, 2019

Justice for those killed in a terrible fire at the Ali Enterprises garments factory in Baldia Town in Karachi has continued to be delayed. At a time when the Punjab government has taken the poor decision of banning labour inspections, the plight of the workers who suffered the Baldia Town factory fire reminds us of the harrowing consequences of ignoring workplace safety. Seven years ago, in what is now alleged to be a case of arson, hundreds of factory workers were left trapped inside the burning factory. Only a few dozen survived as another 260 of their co-workers perished in the fire. The scars on the survivors of the fire are both physical and mental. Life has not been easy to get on with. The survivors have neither received sufficient medical care nor sufficient financial compensation to continue their lives. One former worker at the factory has told the story of how he had to break an iron grill on the second floor window and jump outside. He survived, but only just. Only 25 years old, the worker has difficulty breathing and lifting weight. When the fire occurred, the worker was only 18 years old and looking forward to his life.

The struggle for justice has been continued by the Ali Enterprises Factory Fire Affectees Association. If nothing else, the families as well as the actual workers who survived deserve significant financial compensation. Where there should have been homes and compensation payments, there is more poverty and more labouring in hazardous conditions ahead. But those who lost their families and their livelihoods in the Baldia Town factory fire have not made compensation their key demand. That is an issue being taken up in courts – more recently in Germany. Instead, the affectees are asking for the implementation of stringent health and safety measures at workplaces. This is the one thing that no one is willing to promise.

If anything, the Punjab government has shown that the only way forward is to take two steps back. This will not silence the Baldia Town fire affectees. They continue to fight for justice for all of Pakistan’s workers. This year too, they returned outside the burnt factory to mark the seventh anniversary of the fire. Their demands are the demands of all workers in Pakistan: written contracts, safe workplaces, regular labour inspections, eight-hour workdays, enforcement of labour standards, protection of unions, punishment of those responsible for the fire, and the need for labour training institutes. Any government that claims to be pro-poor would make this cause their own.

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