The society has been brutalized in a sense that no one heeds the voices and cries of downtrodden until a tragedy occurs. The same is true about the workers at Ali Enterprises
It was darkest and saddest day in the history of labour movement in Pakistan when more than 300 workers were burnt alive in severest fire accident at a garment factory in Karachi on September 11.
The fire accident at factory was not the first one at this very factory or in other factories. It is a daily phenomenon but remains unnoticed. The September 11 tragedy has brought it to spotlight, finally. But at a horrible cost. In one day, 300 worker lost their precious live at the alter of capitalist greed and lust for more profit.
The society has been brutalized in a sense that no one heeds the voices and cries of downtrodden until a tragedy occurs. The same is true about the workers at Ali Enterprises, a garment factory at Hub river road, in SITE industrial area of Karachi. At Ali Enterprises, fire broke out even in the past a couple of times. But no government agency took any action.
It has transpired that the factory was established illegally without registering it under the factory act. It is an export-oriented factory. Here in Pakistan, most factories are not registered under the factory act. This is a strategy to twist rules and regulations deny the rights to workers.
The factory building was not approved either by the concerned authority namely the Karachi Building Authority (KBA). The safety measures were not in place at Ali Enterprises. There was no emergency exit. For more than 500 workers, only one exit was provided. All the windows were iron-grilled while doorways and stairs were stuff with finished or semi-finished merchandises. A generator was used as alternate source of electricity without proper precautions. Contempt for basic safety was as conspicuous as contempt for basic labour rights.
Most of the workers were on third-party contract. None of the workers had any appointment letter. That is why the identification of the dead workers had to be carried out through a DNA test. The workers were not registered with either the Social Security Department or the Employees Old Age Benefit Institute (EOBI) and Worker Welfare Board/Fund. The workers were not allowed to unionise. Hence, they had no collective bargaining rights. The workers who survived the accident said that factory itself was insured but workers were not. They even blamed that the former factory owner, Shahid Bella, himself planned fire to claim insurance money.
The National Trade Union Federation Pakistan (NTUF) immediately reacted and organized a protest demonstration in Karachi. It demanded arrest of the factory owner, to register criminal cases against the concerned departmental heads besides resignations from the labour minister, the minister for industries, the governor and the chief minister of Sindh.
The NTUF also demands a compensation of Rs one million for the families of dead workers and Rs 400,000 for the wounded workers besides their free medical treatment. The NTUF also demands:
- strict labour inspections in coordination with workers representative bodies
- registering all the factories under the factory act
- implementation health and safety laws in letter and spirit
- an end to dreaded contract system
- issuance of appointment letters to all the workers at the time of employment
- registration with Social Security, EOBI and other workers’ welfare schemes.
The NTUF also appeals to the international workers’ bodies to assert pressure on the international brands to force the local manufacturers to observe labour laws, work-place safety standards, ILO conventions and labour laws of the country.
|Nasir Mansoor is the Deputy General Secretary National Trade Union Federation, Pakistan (NTUF)]|