The Baldia factory fire in which 258 workers were burnt to death has prompted much debate and discussion on how far Karachi’s industrialists follow the rules.
But such is the state of affairs that a shocking 98% of factories have no trade unions, as a result of which worker rights fall by the wayside.
On Saturday yet another press conference was held to train the spotlight on these problems. It was held by Karamat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, Jaffar Khan of the Muttahida Labour Federation, Habibuddin Junaidi of the All Pakistan Trade Union Federation, Nasir Mansoor of the National Trade Union Federation, Mirza Maqsood of the Mazdoor Mahaz-e-Amal and Rehana Yasmin of the Hosiery Garments Textile Workers General Union.
“This is a vulnerable section of society but plays a pivotal role in generation revenue,” they said, referring to the labour force. “If labour laws are not implemented and the Baldia factory issue is not seriously tackled, exports will be affected.”
The Factory Act of 1934 lays down that it is the prime responsibility of a factory owner to ensure safety and health. “Public officials are supposed to publish reports on the condition of a factory and this rule was followed till 1980,” Karamat Ali said. “It is also the duty of the trade union to demand inspections.”
Pakistan is a signatory to 38 ILO conventions. “Under the convention, Pakistan needs to ensure the inspection of its factories,” he said. The ILO has expressed its concern that this is not done.
On the occasion of 100th session of the ILO in 2011, the body pointed out that Pakistan had adopted a national enforcement policy in 2006, which embodies the government’s commitment to implementing inspections and enforcing the law.
It is the duty of the building control authority to ensure all basic requirements are met when a factory is built. “The labour department, police and district administration are bound to register a factory,” he added. “It was a tragedy but we take it as a routine incident. The fire was noticed across the world and people abroad ask why this tragedy took place? The government has to make the system better now.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 30th, 2012.