KARACHI: Industrial accidents happen all over the world, but it amounts to a criminal act if the government turns a blind eye to such incidents. On the other hand, the Sindh government tackled the fallout from the Baldia Town factory fire tragedy in a prompt manner.
These views were expressed by Francesco d’Ovidio, country director of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), as he was attending a consultation for formulating a plan of action to prevent industrial disasters in the future. The session was jointly organised by the ILO, the Sindh Labour Department, Employers Federation of Pakistan (EFP) and the Pakistan Workers Federation (PWF) on Thursday.
PWF general secretary Zahoor Awan stressed on the importance of factory owners properly registering their workers, and added that they should “not treat workers like machines”. Unregistered workers at the ill-fated Ali Enterprises in Baldia Town had created a host of problems for the government and nongovernmental organisations, as they were not sure how many workers were present in the factory when the file broke out. The participants also observed that when contracts are awarded to third parties, then the problem of unregistered workers rises.
While quoting a media report, Sindh labour secretary Arif Elahi said that the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) had issued 38,000 power connections to industrial units in the city, when the number of registered factories in Karachi is closer to 5,000. “We have 7,000 registered factories in the entire province, and therefore this [KESC figure] is ridiculous,” said Elahi.
When it came to discussing factory inspections, Elahi said that the government needed help from the private sector in this regard. He also complained on the occasion that the labour department is understaffed, and most of its existing officials are also untrained. Despite all these problems, we have registered 1,000 new factories in Sindh during the last two months, boasted Elahi.
While talking about the Baldia fire tragedy, d’Ovidio told The Express Tribune that the ILO and the provincial government had provided immediate support to the families of the victims. The next step involved making sure that such disasters do not happen in the future, and ILO has provided competence-based training to 400 people from families who were affected by the Baldia incident.
The recommendations that came out after the session included providing training to factory inspectors, and updating the labour policy and the Factory Act. The government was also told to ensure that relevant labour laws that are already on the books get implemented. The labour secretary then announced that his department will use these recommendations when it launches a fresh plan of action next month.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 8th, 2012.