NTUF issues report on Karachi factory fire tragedy: Demands compensation for affected workers as per international standards

KARACHI: National Trade Union Federation NTUF here Monday issued a report on tragic Ali Enterprises garment factory fire in Karachi.

The report titled ‘Death Chamber: A tragedy on 9/11, 2012 in Pakistan’ written by Zehra Khan was launched at the Karachi Press Club KCP.

The report says September 11, 2012 was one of the darkest days in the history of labour movement in Pakistan and it was also the deadliest disaster not only in textile sector but all industrial sector of the world. On the day fire was broke out in Ali Enterprises, a garment factory in SITE area, Karachi in which 257 workers died within small spine of time. The main cause of these deaths was unprotected working environment. Many of the stranded workers died of suffocation as they were trapped in a factory with no emergency exits available.

The report said it was not the first incident of its kind but every day such workplace mishaps are reported albeit on smaller scale, which mostly go unnoticed. There are factories and commercial establishments, spread all over the country, having same horrible working conditions, posing potential threats to the lives of about 60million Pakistani workers.

History reminds that 101 years ago on 25th March 1911, a same fire incident took place in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory New York City in the USA which resulted in death of 146 garment workers. After 101 years the history was repeated but with a more severity, burning alive of 257 officially confirmed workers in the inferno in Ali Enterprises Karachi, producing garments for a Germany based International Buyer “KiK”. These victims were in their prime years, mostly ageing between 15 to 35 years.

Karachi, where the fire tragedy was witnessed, is the largest city, industrial and commercial hub of Pakistan where more than 65% of industries of the country are located, producing merchandizes for local and international markets. Textile garments is one of the most important sectors providing job to millions of workforce and earning much needed foreign exchange, though on the cost of cheap labour and precarious working environment. Majority of factories least bothers about the labour laws, international labour standards and even their own agreed Code of Conducts COC with the international buyers.

Ali Enterprises was one of these factories having all signs of anti-workers policies, with more focus on maximizing profit, paying least attention to the safety and wellbeing of their workers. Ali Enterprises had an estimated turnover of 10 to 50 million US dollars a year, compared with a salary of skilled worker between 50 to 100 US dollars paid at the end of the month. The company manufactures semi-finished and finished products for the brand “OKAY Jeans,” of KiK based in Germany as well as for other brands like Go Blue and Diesel, as revealed by the workers in their interviews in this survey. The factory employed approximately 2000 workers in different shifts for different jobs in its 16 sections.

The report said an international Social Audit Company RINA had issued SA8000 certificate to Ali Enterprises which means the factory was safe and working conditions there were more than satisfactory. The certificate was issues just 10 days before the accident which speaks volumes about the credibility and authenticity of the audit system of so-called international audit companies.

It said the Governments of Pakistan has not yet completely compensated the legal heirs of burnt victims. As per reports only 257 workers got the partial compensation, as majority of the workers didn’t know the procedures adopted by the officials and government to compensate the family members of deceased workers. The authorities could not even produce DNA reports of 25 families whose loved ones were still missing, while only 17 unidentified bodies were buried in Mucho graveyard in Baldia Town. After the fire incident many workers became unemployed and those who were injured due to the fire didn’t get proper treatment from the government. Now these families are facing problems to make both ends meet and they are literally starving.

It was recommended that appointment letters should be given to the workers at the time of their recruitment. Safety and protection measures as envisaged in international and national labour law must be observed at workplace and the government should ratify ILO convention of occupational safety and health OSH.

It was strongly suggested that electric gates in the factories should be banned. Factory building should be certified by the building authorities. Training is required for workers in connection with labour laws, health and safety at workplace. Some serious strategies should be evolved to initiate the process of formation of workers’ representative unions in factories.

The report urged the government to develop efficient labour inspection mechanism; reregister workers with social security institutions, Employees Old Age Benefits Institution and Workers Welfare Board at the time of their employment; strictly observe the laws to register the factories under Factories Act 1934, and increase minimum wages which should be according to the inflation rate

It suggested that international brands should buy from or order to those manufactures who implement all labour laws, especially safety measures at work place in true sense. The international brand called KIK is equally responsible for the fire incident and it should compensate the workers according to international standards.

The report demanded to eliminate child labour from factories and enrol child labours in schools. DNA test laboratory should be established in every industrial city. SA certification shouldn’t be used to undermine the national and international labour standards. It asked to cancel registration of audit certifying organizations which issue fake ISO and audit certificates to factories. Government of Pakistan should order the international audit company RINA to provide the list of 100 factories to whom they have issued the audit certificates.

It said ILO has failed to play its due role to train workers; it is recommended that the ILO should evolve strategy on it and cooperate with all federations instead of a few chosen ones. There should be long term rehabilitation program for the families of the victims and injured workers.

On the occasion, Nasir Mansoor of NTUF announced that a rally will be held to commemorate first anniversary of Baldia tragedy on Wednesday 11th September 2013 at 3:30 from Regal Chowk Saddar to Karachi Press Club.

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