Gadani’s ship-breaking workers threaten to go on strike

Published: July 28, 2017
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The union representatives say no steps have been taken to ensure a safer workplace for workers. PHOTO: EXPRESS

The union representatives say no steps have been taken to ensure a safer workplace for workers. PHOTO: EXPRESS

KARACHI: The Ship Breaking Workers Union Gadani has warned of going on strike in mid-August if their employers and the government do not fulfil their demands of provision of health and safety facilities at workplaces, increments in salaries and wages as well as special legislation for their industry.

Addressing a press conference on Thursday at the Karachi Press Club, union president Bashir Mehmoodani said that the ship-breakers and authorities seemed least bothered about workers’ safety at the yards, despite witnessing one of the deadliest disasters in the history of the industry last November.

On November 1, 2016, 26 workers were killed and dozens others injured when a decommissioned oil tanker, MT Aces, caught fire during the dismantling process. The blaze ripped through the tanker and continued to rage for three to four days due to the lack of fire extinguishing facilities at the yard.

Mehmoodani, who was part of a tripartite committee formed to oversee the compensation process to the victims of the fire and to propose necessary rules and regulations for ship-breaking industry, said that nothing has been done to rectify the shortcomings other than verbal assurances from the employers and authorities.

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“Three months on, two-acres of land has been given by a local resident for the construction of a hospital in Gadani but the employers who pledged to establish the health facility have not started any work nor have they responded,” he said. “Two to three people are injured daily during the work but, unfortunately, no one cares.”

Nasir Mansoor, National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) deputy general secretary, commented that the November tragedy drew the attention of the whole world towards the precarious working conditions in Gadani and the government also formed a committee under the federal minister for production to investigate the matter.

Around nine months have passed but the committee’s report has yet to be made public, he said. This reflects how much the government and employers are concerned about the labourers who, through their sweat and blood, earn them billions of rupees in revenue.

Mansoor said that a so-called dispensary established at the yard still awaits a doctor while the ambulances stationed at a few yards are without drivers. “Expired fire extinguishers and out-dated safety equipment, which are actually from scrapped ships, have been installed at a few yards to give an impression that safety measures have been taken.”

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The Gadani ship-breaking yards cater to around 33% of the country’s iron needs and provide raw material to the majority of rerolling mills, he said, adding that at least 3,500 to 4,000 workers are currently directly associated with the dismantling work.

“If a worker is injured during the work, the employers at first do their best to cover up the incident and offer a meagre amount to the injured to get medical aid,” Mansoor claimed. “Six workers have lost their lives since the oil tanker tragedy while many others have been injured. It seems that the government has left the workers at the mercy of their employers who only care for their profits.”

NTUF President Rafiq Baloch said that the government had pledged to move legislation about the ship-breaking industry but nothing has been done. “The situation would have been better if labour laws were implemented at the yards.”

He said that the police, labour department, environmental watchdogs, local media and other institutions were still relying on black money from the employers to remain tight-lipped about their wrongdoings. The NTUF and labour union leaders warned that if the ship-breakers and the government did not fulfil their demands within a week they would resort to protests and then a strike would be called at the yards in mid-August. They demanded that the wages be increased by at least 50% with effect from this fiscal year.

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