KARACHI: It was exactly 10 years on Sunday since the heart-wrenchingly painful incident of the Baldia factory inferno happened.
On the 10th anniversary of the “martyrdom” of over 260 innocent workers in the Ali Enterprises Garment Factory, labour and trade union leaders demanded implementation of the International Accord in Pakistan to improve the safety and health conditions in factories and workplaces.
A rally and sit-in was organised outside the site of the factory by the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), Association of the Affectees of Baldia Factory Fire, and Home-based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) that was attended by the heirs of the victims, labourers, political workers and representatives of human rights organisations.
They displayed the pictures of the slain workers and lit clay lamps in their memory.
Govt, fashion brands asked to fully implement International Safety Accord on pattern of Bangladesh
Speaking on the occasion, NTUF’s General Secretary Nasir Mansoor said that even after the passing of 10 years after the tragedy, factories and workplaces in Pakistan still lacked health and safety measures.
He said that factories and workplaces in this country were still virtual killing fields for hapless workers.
“Millions of workers belonging to the textiles and garments sector are deprived of their basic labour rights such as minimum wages, the right to form trade unions, social security, pension, etc,” he said, adding: “The local supplying factories of international brands are also involved in this crime and workers here have become salaried slaves.”
He added that this situation in the backdrop of the issue of continuance of the GSP Plus status might bring negative consequences for the Pakistani economy.
He said that the GSP Plus is going to expire by the end of the new year and if the anti-worker attitude in Pakistan was not changed, the duty concession in the European markets would be withdrawn, jeopardising the livelihood of one million Pakistani workers.
Saeeda Khatoon, the chairperson of the Association of the Affectees of Baldia Factory Fire who lost her only son in the Baldia factory fire, said that it was due to the greed of capitalists that she along with other parents like her were mourning after their innocent children.
She said that there is greed in the blood of capitalists be they local or international. “The number of workers dying in workplace mishaps is rising. The heirs of the Baldia factory fire victims are yet to be doled out justice. The German brand Kik till today has not apologised to the heirs of the victims,” she said.
‘Women workers face sexual torture, harassment’
HBWWF’s General Secretary Zehra Khan said the Sindh labour department is doing nothing for the implementation of labour laws in the province.
She said that to this day, the rules of health and safety law have to be framed.
“Our women workers face sexual torture and harassment at workplaces and their voices are being gagged. The officials of police and security agencies provide security only to factory owners. The retired officers of security agencies are recruited by factory owners to harass their workers,” she said, adding that the contract labour system after coming to the private institutions is also being extended to governmental and workers’ welfare institutions.
Zehra Khan also reminded that due to the recent floods more than 50 per cent of cotton crop has been damaged and that this would soon result in creating a crisis in the textile industry rendering a large number of textile and garment workers jobless while also affecting the foreign exchange reserves of the country.
The moot demanded to fully implement the International Accord in Pakistan to ensure the health and safety of textile and garment industry workers.
It was also said that all international fashion brands should ratify this Accord on the pattern of Bangladesh.
They called upon authorities to fully implement health and safety law and asked them to decide the cases of the heirs of the Baldia factory fire victims. The stopped pension to the parents of the victims should also be released.
They asked to ensure a harassment-free environment for female workers and the setting up of anti-harassment committees comprising women workers. They said that all labour rights under the GSP Plus should be fully implemented.
Habibuddin Junaidi of Peoples Labour Bureau, Karamat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), Gul Rahman of Workers Rights Association, Saira Feroz of United HW Workers Union, Rafiq Baloch of NTUF also spoke on the occasion.
Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2022