Partly blaming the factory owners and government officials for last year’s Baldia factory fire incident which claimed more than 250 lives, the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) has held international buyers, auditors, as well as, the safety inspection firms responsible for the catastrophe.
“Merely 10 days before the fire incident, RINA, an international firm, had issued a safety certificate to the factory, and they are as much to blame for the incident as the others,” said Nasir Mansoor, the central deputy general secretary of the NTUF. “What is more surprising is that they have also issued safety certificates to a hundred other factories in the city. We demand that these factories’ names be made public.”
Mansoor also lashed out at the international buyers who ignored the pathetic working conditions of the labourers, calling them murderers. “We are in quite a dilemma here. If we raise our voice for these workers, the contracts of the international companies might be cancelled and these labourers will end up unemployed,” he said.
To mark the first anniversary of the Baldia incident falling on September 11, the trade unionists gathered on Monday at the Karachi Press Club to release their own findings of the country’s worst industrial incident.Mansoor said that the electric gate of the factory had resulted in many of the casualties as people were not able to evacuate the premises. “The windows of the factory had been reinforced with iron grills and there was no escape for the workers. There were no exit points!”
The affected workers or their families had received compensation between Rs1.2 million to Rs1.4 million but this was not enough, he said, adding that 97 per cent of the factories in the country were functioning illegally as they were not registered with the relevant departments under the 1934 Factories Act.
Based on the interviews of 101 people, which included affected family members and surviving workers, the report prepared by Zehra Khan of the organisation states that 37 per cent of those interviewed belonged to the 21-25 age group. Contradicting the factory owner’s denials that no child labourers were working at Ali Enterprises, the report states that as many as 22 per cent of the workers were between 15 and 20 years of age.
The survey states that 50 per cent of the employees were hired on contract while another 46 per cent said that they were temporary workers. Only five of the 101 people interviewed said that they were employed on a permanent basis. Meanwhile, the findings of the report suggest that the workers were not even being paid the minimum wage as 72 per cent of them were earning between Rs6,000 and Rs10,000 per month, including overtime.
Moreover, only six of the workers used fire extinguishers to control the fire. More than 51 per cent said that they had not received any training to protect themselves from the fire and had no clue what to do.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 10th, 2013.