Enforcement of Factories Act 1934 demanded for workers’ safety

General Karachi

KARACHI: Speakers at a consultation on “Workplace Health and Safety in Pakistan” on Saturday demanded implementation of labour laws including Factories Act 1934 for safety at workplaces in the country.

The consultaiton, organised by Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research PILER at a local hotel, demanded of the government to strictly implement the labour laws at all the workplaces in the country. Karamat Ali, Executive Director of PILER, said all the production should be made in safe environment. Unfortunately this culture is not developed in Pakistan, but we need to develop such an environment, especially when we export products to overseas. Our economy cannot afford such lacks, he added.

He underlined the need to involve workers, employers and government to sit together and evolve a procedure that a worker does not face death at the work place. He pointed out that 90 percent factories in Pakistan are precarious to face such a situation and we need to prevent the death of workers in a large number. In Pakistan inspection of factories is opposed because of corruption in labour department. But that does not mean the inspection be suspended. “We have to find alternatives, if the laws are obsolete; we need to change those laws.”

He said participation of workers in the health and safety is essential. If the workers are not trained, they should be trained and there should be drills on regular basis. Ali said responsibility of fires lies on manufacturers. There was no union in the Ali Enterprise factory. Attitude towards antiunion bias needs to be changed and responsibility should be fixed.

He regretted that international certification is a big fraud. In Pakistan these certifications are considered as a substitute to the inspection by Labour department. RINA company of Italy had issued SAI certification to Ali Enterprises only 20 days ago and PILER is taking up the issue at the international forums against RINA. This company has given certification to 200 other companies. We demand proper audit of those companies should be conducted.

On 17th January, EU passed a resolution, which demands the compliance of health and safety requirement. The resolution has mentioned two factories including Ali Enterprises. Pakistan is seeking special preference under the GSP and if violation is made the Pakistan process would be stalled and immediate sufferers would be Pakistani industries and workers. He underlined the need to have a self regulatory mechanism in Pakistan under which there is no threat of extortion. There is a need to have trained labour inspectors.

Mohammad Wavda, a lawyer of the firm which is persuading a Constitution petition in Sindh High Court on behalf of PIER and other civil society organisation, said after the first week of the incident, the case was filed in Sindh High Court. We had three prayers immediate relief to the affected families, to deal the owners according to the law and government measures so that such incident does not happen in the country.

Initially, the owners did not pay any amount of relief to the workers. DNA determination process was longer so the court was pushed for DNA tests. Six or seven people remained unidentified. The court was cooperative. A major development was KIK Textlin has provided US dollar 1 million unconditional compensation to the affected families, he added.

SHC has formed a commission for the first time and the compensation to the families would start from Monday. The main success was the Sindh High Court’s order to SITE Ltd. and Sindh Building Control Authority to conduct a joint investigation and report to the court. We have requested for a Commission to look into the existing system and suggest the corrections.
Majyd Aziz, exPresident of Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry said labour inspection was stopped by him because the labour department’s corruption.

He said besides owners, the main responsibility also lies on SITE ltd., Fire Brigade, Building Control Authority and other government departments. He agreed that violation of laws is very common and every department is violating. Abdul Aziz Memon, Assistant Director of Labour Department, Government of Sindh said there are some problems in the government department. There are multiple pressure on government machinery.

He said every possible remedy is available under Factories Act 1934, but implementation is a big question mark. The government had set up a 24/7 cell for registration of factories in district West, but not a single factory owner came to get registration with Labour department. Our staff went to the factories and new factories, shops have registered so far. Health and Safety inspection has also started.

Zeenia Shaukat gave an update regarding international advocacy on this issue. This factory was part of a global chain. Clean Clothes Campaign CCC is working with 200 organisation through advocacy, awareness and media for improvement of working conditions. She said due to CCC efforts the German buyer KIK has agreed to provide US$ 1 million as compensation and it has agreed to provide more funds for rehabilitation of the families.