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APTUF meeting: infernos blame laid at government door




All Pakistan Trade Union Federation Meeting on Thursday said that the Punjab and Sindh governments responsible for the tragic fire incidents in Lahore and Karachi, demanding criminal proceedings against those who failed to implement safety laws.

The factory fire that struck Lahore on the same day killing over 25 workers and 314 workers in towel factory in Karachi, and counting is a part of a chain of events taking place every day as a result of state’s criminal negligence to pursue its constitutional responsibility to protect and safeguard citizens’ lives. The tragedy that began to unfold has taken the entire country in an suffocate grip of grief mixed with rage. Questions, though belated, are being asked about the non-implementation of safety standards and the massive corruption in government ranks which led to such flagrant violations of the law. These questions must also be put to all departments concerned — whether labour, industries or local and provincial administrations — and responsibility affixed for the catastrophe. Compensation too must be given to the families of the dead or injured, many of them the sole breadwinners for old parents and children in a society where poverty has struck deep roots.

APTUF Meeting condemned the death of 314 innocent workers in Karachi and 25 workers in Lahore shoe making factory. Meeting pay condolence to the grieve families and said that it was CLEARLY the country’s worst industrial disaster, the factory blaze in Karachi will be seared in memory as the Pakistani worker’s 9/11.

It was said by the Secretary general of APTUF that “The whole state, including government, bureaucracy, the policy-makers, the state departments especially those concerning enforcement of labour laws and building codes are responsible for these deaths as they silently and criminally allow violation of laws and regulations established to ensure health and safety provisions at work.”

Meeting observed that the Article 37 of the constitution guarantees right to secure and humane working conditions while in Pakistan the situation of occupational health and safety is fast deteriorating. There is no independent legislation on health and safety except the Hazardous Occupation Rule 1963 under the Factories Act 1934. The concerned laws too are obsolete and do not conform to international practices

Pakistan has ratified the ILO Labour Inspection Convention, 1947 (No. 81) in 1953. Under this convention the government, through the labour department is bound to ensure that employers and workers are educated and informed on their legal rights and obligations concerning all aspects of labour protection and labour laws; and advised on compliance with the requirements of the law; and necessary provisions are made to enable inspectors to report to superiors on problems and defects that are not covered by laws and regulations. These and many other pro-workers laws are made redundant by the absence of an effective labour inspection system and a tripartite consultation on labour, a weak labour union structure and lack of interest of state institutions for capacity building of workers to protect their interests.

It was also observed that the ban on labour inspection is a key contributor to the loss of life and property as establishments and employers violate labour laws and health and safety provisions with impunity. Besides, the laws related to health and safety at work requires the appropriate government (Federal or Provincial) to appoint qualified individuals as inspectors to enforce these laws. The provinces of Punjab and Sindh have no functional labour inspection system. In fact, the system was banned on the orders of the previous provincial governments. The Punjab Government just restored the inspection system but its ineffectiveness is evident from the Lahore incident where the concerned shoe factory was located in a residential area offering limited provision for emergency exits.

Around 4,000 factories in Lahore were unregistered and working without any approval or safety gadgets for the workers. “Employers have a legal compulsion to ensure that hazards in the workplace are eliminated, minimized, or controlled in such a way that work accidents are avoided. In the absence of labor inspection, employers have a free hand to pursue commercial interests at the cost of labor rights and safety.”

According to the Pakistan Labor and Human Resource Statistics, the number of industrial accidents increased from 354 to 419 during 2000 to 2008. In year 2011 alone, the reported number of fatal accidents went up to 101. This year, the two factory fires in Karachi and Lahore alone have reportedly caused a loss of around 250 lives.

The government has also not ratified ILO Convention 155 on Occupational Safety and Health and Convention 187 of promotional framework for Occupational Safety and Health.

At a meeting organised by the All Pakistan Trade Union Federation, the office bearers expressed concern over loss of hundreds of lives in the two incidents and sought an effective strategy to press the government to implement the relevant laws to avert such incidents in future. “Although we have been witnessing such tragedies for decades, none of the federal or provincial governments initiated serious efforts to avert them,” APTUF General Sectary Rubina Jamil deplore.

She criticised the Punjab government for not learning a lesson from the Kharak (Multan Road) building collapse incident. “Had the government implemented its order to restore labour inspection after the Kharak incident, the repeat of such an incident would have been avoided,” she said and questioned the Labour Department’s project “Centre for Improvement of Working Conditions and Environment.” She alleged that the institute did nothing for the labourers despite having funds in millions.

APTUF President Fazal-e-Wahid said more than 50 laws existed in Pakistan to ensure provision of rights to workers, including health and safety, but none of these was being implemented in letter and spirit.

APTUF demanded vociferous protests against the powers that be for not implementing the worker-friendly laws.

APTUF representatives said that the political parties responsible for dividing workers in separate party labour wings. He said the labour-oriented organisations would have to join hands to ensure protection of worker rights.

Meeting demanded to:

  • Immediately arrest the culprits and punish them according to the law of Land

  • Give 10 lac to the grieved families

  • Registered the factories who are illegal

  • Government should ratify ILO convention 155 on Occupational Safety and Health and Convention 187 of promotional framework for Occupational Safety and Health

  • Closed those factrories not registered

  • Implement health and safety measures

  • Chief Justice of Pakistan to take suo motu notice of the incidents and order to constitution of a commission that could set things right,

  • Give the pension under the OLD AGE BENEFITS scheme to the grieved families for life time.

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