KARACHI: The survivors and families of the victims of the Baldia factory fire gathered on Monday outside the ill-fated building for the fourth consecutive year hoping, in agony and despair, for justice from those who appear to be ignoring them.
A number of people, mostly families, sat under a tent erected outside the Ali Enterprises garments factory in a bid to remember their loved ones at the place where they were last seen alive on September 11, 2012.
Tears rolled down the face of Muhammad Zahid as he looked at the a prow-opened square-shaped hole on the second floor where once a window protected by iron bars covered with net to prevent movement larger than the size of a bee was situated.
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On the fateful day, he, his brother, brother-in-law and sister, friends, colleagues and co-workers were crying for help to save them from the flames that engulfed the factory, roaring through the building and beating their backs as they gripped the bars helplessly.
"There are more Ali Enterprises in each and every neighbourhood of this city just waiting to explode," Zahid said.
"Justice is for the wealthy and powerful, not the poor. All of us are part of a system where killing someone for the profit of another is apparently normal," he said. "Five years on, the authorities concerned have yet to arrest the real culprits and then they brag about solving the case entirely."
‘No organisation represents us other than AEFFA’
Zahid, his brother and brother-in-law survived the fire as they were lucky enough to jump out of the window after they opened it by smashing it with sewing machines. His sister, Nazia, however, later became the fire's 260th victim when she succumbed to her wounds in December, 2015.
The victims are unhappy with the authorities' decision to relieve the factory owners of the charges and not take into account the role of government servants from industrial zones, labour and other relevant departments who shared the responsibility for the casualties. They assert that the case was politicised.
Meanwhile, one of their important demands was regarding the International Labor Organisation (ILO) and Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) which has now stopped paying a large number of families their monthly pension. They demanded that their pension be made a lifetime one.
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The reason given for the stopping the pension payment is that EOBI pays pension to the parents of a victim for five years only. This is in their rules, said an employee, adding that the pension can be made a lifetime one only through an amendment or executive order.
The victims and their families are in an altercation over the ILO's proposal - which is likely to be enforced - to pay the victims a monthly pension out of their share of the compensation money paid by Germany clothing company KiK, after an agreement with IndustriALL Global Union and Clean Clothes Campaign in Geneva last year.
KiK, being the biggest buyer of Ali Enterprises' products, was alleged to be partially responsible for the fire and had paid US$5.15 million to the ILO. The ILO maintains that the money should not be distributed amongst the victims in a lump sum and instead should be payed in installments through the Sindh Employees Social Security Institution.
According to National Trade Union Federation Deputy General Secretary Nasir Mansoor, the ILO proposes payment of around Rs12,000 (US$113) to the spouse of a victim, which includes money for the children as well. Once the children reach 18 years of age they would not be paid any longer. The spouse, however, will still be paid a lesser amount.
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Since majority of the victims, around 65%, were unmarried, their parents and other dependent siblings are their beneficiaries. But they will be paid Rs2,800 (US$26) only and the payment will stop with their death.
Saeeda Khatoon, vice-chairperson of Ali Enterprises Fire Affectees Association, suggested the ILO keep the money with them and instead offered it a similar monthly contribution to the organisation from the victims. "It is a mockery of the blood of our loves ones," she said, rejecting the ILO proposal.
We will continue to fight for justice and it will be delivered the day workers will not fear death at their workplaces, she remarked.