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September 11, 2020

Eight years on, no lessons learnt from Baldia garment factory fire

Karachi

September 11, 2020

Trade union leaders, workers’ representatives and Sindh Health Department officials on Thursday underlined the need for the implementation of the Sindh Occupational Safety & Health Act and taking measures to prevent industrial accidents.

They were speaking at a seminar held in connection with the eighth anniversary of the Baldia factory fire. Titled ‘Assessing Safety and Health Hazards in Pakistan’, the event was organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research (Piler) at the Karachi Press Club.

The speakers lamented that no lessons have been learnt from the September 11, 2012 Ali Enterprises garment factory fire in Baldia Town, which is possibly the worst-ever industrial disaster of Pakistan.

Senior trade union leader Habibuddin Junaidi said the Sindh government has taken some measures, taking the lead in formulating a separate law for occupational safety and health, with the other provincial governments following suit. He admitted that despite the passage of a record number of labour laws, Sindh lacks their implementation.

He deplored the fact that even though 260 workers lost their lives in the factory fire, not one of those responsible has been held accountable to date. He said that some commissions were made but no responsibility has been fixed. Millions of workers are not registered with any social security institution in the country, he added.

Piler Executive Director Karamat Ali said that if health and safety are ensured at unit level and laws are implemented, industrial accidents can be reduced by 90 per cent. “We have to pledge that not a single worker’s life is put in danger in future,” he said. The major responsibility lies on the employers, who have to ensure the provision of safety and health facilities at their establishments, he added.

Ali Ashraf Naqvi, former joint director at the Sindh Labour Department, said the health and safety sector is neglected at industrial units. Referring to the Baldia factory fire, he said it has highlighted the importance of ensuring safety and health facilities at industrial units.

Naqvi said that after the Baldia fire, a joint action plan was formulated, which resulted in a slight improvement in legislation. He pointed out that the Supreme Court appreciated the occupational safety and health law of Sindh and asked the other provinces to formulate similar laws.

He said Sindh took the lead in formulating a separate law in consultation with all the stakeholders. He also said that now the rules of the Sindh Occupational Safety & Health Act have been devised and notified. The labour department will soon notify the appointments of safety and health inspectors, he added.

NOW Communities Executive Director Farhat Perveen said that every year a lot of workers lose their lives in mines in many areas of Pakistan, adding that many cases are not recorded. She said if you contact the labour department, you will learn that they do not have any data on industrial accidents or deaths of workers. She hoped that when they met again next year, no worker would have lost their life in the meantime.

National Trade Union Federation General Secretary Nasir Mansoor said that such incidents had happened in Bangladesh and other countries as well, so serious efforts were made there to reduce their instances, but nothing of the sort had been done in Pakistan.

He said the joint investigation team’s report on the Baldia fire was a diversion, giving the impression that the fire was a terrorist act, but, in fact, the factory was illegal and the owner had not made any effort for the workers’ safety. Extortion is a normal practice in industrial areas, he added. Mansoor said social auditing by Italy’s RINA was not accepting its responsibility and a German court had admitted that there was no such law there to try a case that had happened in Pakistan.

Makhdoom Taufeeq, safety & health joint director, Government of Sindh, said he had appeared before the Supreme Court in the silicosis case, adding that the court had ordered all the provinces and the federal government to make laws similar to the Sindh Occupational Safety & Health Act.