“The new international accord that was agreed at the end of August includes clear language on expansion of the programme to at least one other country. Pakistan would be a logical first choice. There is a documented history of unsafe workplaces. Importantly, extensive discussion among stakeholders regarding a Pakistan Accord have taken place over the course of past five years. The major trade unions organised in the garment industry, civil society, public authorities, academics and employers have all engaged actively and constructively. These discussions included an analysis of where the situation in Pakistan differs from the one in Bangladesh. Pakistan produces a lot of textiles, while Bangladesh is focused on garment production – a Pakistan Accord only makes sense if extend to the mills. Pakistani workplaces as well as workers are largely unregistered. In other aspects, similarities were found: lack of inspections, lack of OSH committees and a refusal of brands to pay a price that would enable suppliers to make the necessary improvements.
“The new international accord agreement will hold the brands accountable for ensuring all their workplaces are inspected, and that all the necessary remediation takes place. Importantly, brands will have to ensure that commercial terms make this feasible. Brands also are obliged to end contracts with suppliers that refuse to implement the remediation plan, or that refuse workers the right to organise, or the right to refuse unsafe work. Contrary to many corporate voluntary CSR programmes all the Accord inspection reports are made public, and the inspections are done independently from the brands and from the employers. The Accord also requires an independent complaints mechanism, and OSH training for all workers. The framework for implementation and governance at the national level will need to be developed and agreed by Pakistani trade unions, civil society, employers and public authorities. The earlier this joint effort starts, the better.”
Ineke Zeldenrus is the International
Coordinator of the Clean Clothes
primarily lies with government
By Ismail Suttar
“The Sindh Labour Department has only 125 labour inspectors for the entire Sindh. A vast majority of them are ignorant of health and safety requirements, even labour laws. Health and safety standards are not being enforced by the authorities. Continuous violations of the labour laws, disregard of occupational health and safety protocols, non-registration of industrial units, approval of industrial units in residential areas, ineptitude of labour inspectors, and, massive corruption are causing frequent factory fires, building collapses and deaths. The blame primarily lies with government authorities.
“The Sindh Labour Department, the municipal authorities, the deputy commissioners, the KDA and above all the government functionaries have learnt no lessons from the Baldia garment factory fire. They are not concerned about safety and health.
“It is high time that representatives of workers and employers hold a joint meeting of Workers Employers Bilateral Council of Pakistan (WEBCOP) to advocate strict adherence to the law, identify and lobby for immediate removal of all industrial units from residential areas, mandatory insurance for all workers, third-party audits of OSH structures by EFP in all factories, compulsory registration of all industrial units by Labour Department, the SESSI and the EOBI, and ensure payment of minimum wage to all employees.
“The EFP president has assured the leaders of workers’ federations that the EFP is solidly with them in ensuring full compliance of the ILO standards and achievement of common objectives.”
Ismail Suttar is the president of the Employers’ Federation of Pakistan (EFP)
“We have enough laws but their
enforcement is poor”
By Karamat Ali
“Every year hundreds of workers lose their lives while working in factories and mines in and around major cities of Pakistan because of non-enforcement of labour laws.
I think we have enough laws, but their enforcement is poor.
“Pakistan has witnessed many deadly fires and explosions in which hundreds of workers have lost their lives. Baldia factory fire was a major incident in which over 255 workers lost their lives due to absence of occupation safety and health measures. Only last week 16 workers lost their lives in a fire incident in Mehran Town, Karachi.
“In the province of Sindh, a special law called the Sindh Occupational Safety and Health Act, 2017, has been enacted. It exclusively deals with occupational safety and labour inspections. In this regard, a Sindh Occupational Safety and Health Council has been established, which has representatives from employers, employees and technical experts.
“The main problem in Pakistan is enforcement of the laws. The Factories Act 1934, and later adoption of the same law by the provincial assemblies, has made the provincial governments competent to enforce an effective labour inspection system but unfortunately, this system is faulty. Even in the past the governments had stopped labour inspections for many years. Recently, the Punjab government has initiated a campaign of inspection-less work, which has discouraged the labour inspection system.
“The Export Processing Zones are already exempted from the labour laws. Any further loosening of the government control will cause a further deterioration the OSH situation at industries and other workplaces.
“We demand that the government increase the number of labour inspectors and enforce the labour laws effectively.”
Karamat Ali is the executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER).
“The workers are provided no facilities”
By Nasir Mansoor
“Many factories in Pakistan are no better for their workers than dirty death houses. The workers are provided no facilities. They work in inhuman conditions. Frequently, there is no proper arrangement for light and no ventilation. Trade unions are virtually banned. If a group of workers at a factory tries to form a union, they are removed from the rolls. The workers are not provided personal protective equipment. During the Covid-19 lockdown, we saw that observing the SOPs was impossible in most factories.
No factory owner provided face masks or sanitizers despite the fact that the government had asked them to provide these and protective equipment to all workers. Fire exits do not exist in many factories in Karachi and Hyderabad and Labour Department inspectors do not bother to visit the factories for inspection required under the Factories Act.
“Most industrialists act like a mafia. They have the full support from the Labour Department and law enforcement agencies to exploit their workers. Often, some retired officers of law enforcement agencies are employed by the industrialists to create an atmosphere of fear at the workplaces.
“The labour inspections have been virtually halted. The Labor Department officers get their salaries from the government but serve the cause of the industrialists. They receive handsome amounts from the industries every month. The Sindh Labour Department admitted after the Mehran Town fire incident that the factory was not registered. It is like saying that the Labour Department has no responsibility for a deadly incident in the factories that are not registered. There was this huge building in the industrial cum residential area. How come the government remained unaware of the factory?
“80 to 90 percent of the factories in Karachi’s industrial zones are not registered with the Labour Department. That leaves the workers in these factories prone to deadly accidents.
“The Sindh Health and Safety Act was passed in the year 2016 after untiring efforts by labour organisations. It lacks enforcement. The council established under the law has yet to be convened.”
Nasir Mansoor is the general secretary of the National Trade Unions