The victims of the Baldia factory fire have a representative body of their own and no other individual or group is entitled to make decisions regarding them.
This was stated at a convention jointly organised by the Ali Enterprises Factory Fire Affectees Association (AEFFA) and the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) at Pakistan Medical Association hall on Sunday.
The event was held to mark the fourth anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy that occurred on April 24, 2013, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in which more than 1,000 workers were killed and around twice as many were injured as the eight-storey building collapsed.
Speaking on the occasion, Saeeda Khatoon, AEFFA’s senior vice-president, said she and other heirs of the Baldia factory victims could feel the suffering of the Rana Plaza victims because they, like them, were from the working class.
Two-hundred-and-sixty workers were burnt to death while dozens were wounded in the fire at Ali Enterprises garments factory, dubbed as Baldia factory, in Karachi on September 11, 2012. Khatoon lost her only teenage son, Aijaz Ahmed, in the incident.
She said the deaths of labourers at their workplaces had become a routine and yet authorities were paying no heed to it. She deplored that it seemed that neither the employers nor the government cared about the workers.
Nasir Mansoor, NTUF’s deputy general secretary, said that government institutions and employers had formed a notorious cult to get away with the murders of workers they were committing at the factories. He added that the workers were not given job letters nor were they registered with the social security institutions and pension funds. They employers, he said, were exploiting their rights to save money with them illegally.
“At 90% of the factories, workers were not given even the minimum wage set by the government and are forced to work for more than eight hours,” he said.
In the case of Rana Plaza tragedy, Nasir said, the victims were paid compensation in a lump sum and the Bangladesh garment manufacturers and their international buyers under the supervision of government signed an accord to uplift the working conditions.
Lamenting that Pakistan did not learn from its neighbouring country, he said the Baldia factory fire victims were still awaiting justice and in search of it had themselves approached the courts in Italy and Germany.
Muhammad Jabir, AEFFA’s president and a parent of a fire victim, said the bereaved families were not given the compensation that was deposited with the International Labor Organization by the German company, Kik.
The German company, which procured over 70% of the products made at the ill-fated Baldia factory, had under an agreement paid USD5.15 million to be distributed among the victims. The company has been partially accused of overlooking workers safety, which resulted in casualties.
At the end of the event, the participants unanimously agreed on the points that the Baldia factory fire victims should be given their due compensation all at once rather than in instalments and in case it doesn’t happen this way, they will approach the court. They also demanded the government to decide the Baldia factory fire case pending with an anti-terrorism court at the earliest and not to politicise the issue for its own interests.
They demanded that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and a real estate tycoon fulfil their promises of paying financial aid to the victims and advised them to not make such claims again with anyone if they were not willing to stick with it.
While demanding that occupational health and safety laws be implemented at all the workplaces, they asked the government to set up a workers training centre in the memory of the Baldia factory fire victims.
Meanwhile, a large number of workers took to streets in protests on Sunday to mark the fourth anniversary of the 2013 Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh, demanding health and safety at their workplaces. The rally was organised by NTUF and workers from different industries as well as families of Baldia factory fire victims attended it in an expression of solidarity.
They marched from Fawara Chowk to Karachi Press Club in Saddar, holding placards and shouting slogans for workers’ rights.
Addressing the rally, NTUF President Rafiq Baloch said that despite having seen the worst industrial disasters, neither the employers nor the authorities have learned any lesson. “Casualties are still occurring at the workplaces due to lack of health and safety measures,” he remarked. “And the worst example of it is of Gadani ship-breaking yard.”