Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri has finally taken the much-needed step to suspend work at the Gadani ship-breaking yard until better safety standards are in place. The working conditions at Gadani are so hazardous that it is not surprising when accidents happen, but unsurprising if they don’t. The loss of lives last year were completely avoidable deaths. The November accident alone, which according to official statistics claimed around 20 lives, is feared to have actually left 100 people dead. Despite the high death toll, the fact that merely a few weeks after another accident happened, is evident of how little state authorities care about labour rights and right to life of the poor.
There has been considerable silence by policymakers as well as the media on the dangerous working conditions in Gadani, which rights groups have time and again termed unsafe. According to independent accounts of workers and labour rights groups, nearly 850 labourers have lost their lives since the yard became operational in 1968, while more than 1,000 workers have lost their limbs or suffered other serious injuries. Since the ship-breaking yard was established, workers have been given pitiful wages and deprived of not only safe work standards but also basic necessities such as clean drinking water and safe housing. So the issues in Gadani have basically stayed the same since four decades now. Last year in May, the International Law and Policy Institute published a report titled Shipbreaking Practices in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, in which Gadani was said to have “hazardous substances and wastes, as well as physical, mechanical, biological, ergonomic and psychological hazards.” The report said the substances strewn around the area “tend to be more dangerous because they contain substances that have long been banned.”
While ship-breaking is of course an important industry for Balochistan, it is extremely callous - to say the least - of government authorities to let the yard operate without even a monitoring body in place. The suspension of work at the ship-breaking yard should have happened months ago, but if it is finally happening now, the government must abide by its decision to not resume operations until it becomes a safe space.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 6th, 2017.
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