Karachi: Dissatisfied with the recent anti-terrorism court ruling in the case of the high-profile garment factory fire in Baldia, family and rights groups on Saturday said the politicization of the incident had saved the main defendant and thus the families of the workers who were killed did not get justice. .
More than 260 workers were burned alive when the multi-storey garment factory Ali Enterprises set fire to the city of Baldia on September 11, 2012, becoming the deadliest industrial fire in Pakistan’s history.
Families and rights groups said during a speech at a press conference at the Karachi Press Club that declaring the prime suspect, the factory owner, innocent was a mockery of justice.
They say the lack of health and safety facilities at work in Pakistan has become a death trap for the country’s workers. They expressed regret that eight years had passed but the affected families still had not received justice.
Saeeda Khatoon, who lost his only 18-year-old son in the Baldia fire incident and heads the Ali Company Factory Fire Influence Association, also spoke at the press conference.
“The investigation in this case was influenced by the formation of a different JIT [joint investigation teams], and the bereaved family has never been accepted as a party to the case, which is against the basic principles of law and justice. “
He said the main question was not whether it was an arson or an accidental fire incident, but the point was that a proper fire suppression system was not installed at the factory.
Secretary General of the National Federation of Trade Unions Nasir Mansoor said: “All the factory exits, including the windows, are closed with iron bars. The fire fighting equipment that was there was not in working condition. “
He said workers had not been trained for emergency situations. “The factory itself is illegal. The building map has not received approval from the relevant department. This is the main reason that resulted in the death of hundreds of innocent workers. “
Speakers said anyone involved in the incident should be given an exemplary sentence, but calling the factory owners innocent was a murder of justice for their criminal negligence in ensuring proper safety protocols claimed the lives of 260 workers.
They said that if the factory owners were being blackmailed or received threats, they should contact the police or the administration concerned and confirm safety arrangements, which they did not actually do.
They also say that instead of learning from this tragedy and improving working conditions in the workplace, business owners have been provided with solutions in the name of threats of extortion. They added that industrial accidents are on the rise and many workers are still dying from it.
However, speakers lamented that governments continue to be silent spectators while local and international brands continue to violate labor laws and standards in the race for more profit.
They also lament that the International Labor Organization conventions are not being implemented, nor are the General System of Preference Plus and the Global Framework Agreement.
They say international brands, local suppliers and private social audit firms have formed unholy alliances against workers, while the government protects them, which is tantamount to giving them permission to kill workers.
Speakers said local labor laws were constantly being violated. They say that about 95 percent of workers do not have a letter of appointment and only five percent are registered with social security and pension institutions.
They show that ethnic and gender discrimination are ripe in industrial estates, while the notorious system of work contracts has turned millions of workers into modern-day slaves.
They said that only one percent of the workers were members of a trade union.
They say Sindh has a law for occupational health and safety but it is not enforced. “The Sindh government has declared September 11 as a day of health and safety, but strangely, no programs or events are being held at the government level today,” said a speaker.
The press conference was also told that everyone is doing politics over the blood of the martyrs of the workers but no one is ready to help them get justice and cover their deep wounds.
The speakers said it was a shame that even in the 21st century, Pakistan’s largest industrial city, namely Karachi, does not have a forensic laboratory for DNA testing.
They said that the seven workers who died from the Baldia fire incident were buried without identification while their DNA match certificates await from the lab in Lahore.
They say that all the demands of the affected families must be accepted. They also said that the provincial government should provide them with jobs and land as promised.
The speakers conveyed that the retirement of the Old Age Allowance Institute for parents of martyrs must be continued. Orders must be issued to pay for gratuities and group insurance, they added.
They demanded that forensic laboratories be set up in all cities, especially in Karachi. They also demanded that brands be forced to comply with local and international laws.
They said the private social audit system should be ended and replaced with a labor inspection system. They also place an emphasis on saving the lives of workers and ensuring their good health.
Executive Director of Pakistan Institute of Workforce Education & Research Karamat Ali, Deputy Chair of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission Sindh Asad Iqbal Butt and Secretary of the Homeworkers Federation Zehra Akbar Khan were also present at the occasion.