The absence of labour or industrial laws in public and private sector enterprises in Pakistan for long has caused loss of thousands of precious lives. In a number of cases, the victims are silenced with monetary compensation, however, for some a court inquiry is initiated against the culprits. This is often at the behest of labour rights organisations or other third parties and not the victims themselves owing to the longevity of the litigation process and the monetary burden that follows.
One such incident is the Baldia Town Factory fire. Six years down the road, the families of the 259 dead still await legal conviction of those indicated by the court. Due to the involvement of the members of a political party the case is still pending in the courts. The said members belonged to a political party, which was back then a part of the provincial government of Sindh, and had allegedly committed arson upon the refusal of the factory owners to pay extortion money.
The dual connotations attached to the incident point at the involvement of the government for causing loss of life and property where it should have been the one to protect it. In the recent, yet a positive development, to the case, those charged, including former minister Rauf Siddiqi, are under the trial ordered by the Anti-terrorism Court earlier this year. Further, the government also stands negligent for failing to ensure the implementation of labour and Workplace Safety laws.
As labour rights bodies alongside the families of the victims stood as parties to the case against the government there is a dire need to restructure and strengthen the working of the labour unions in the country, which can then proactively take up such cases to legal and governmental forms while collectively covering the costs incurred by the victims.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2018.