Roundtable at SZABIST: Sindh to have separate occupational health and safety law soon

September 14, 2014 Off By Web Desk

KARACHI: The Sindh Government has prepared a separate law on the occupational health and safety (OHS) on work place, for this purpose a tripartite consultation process has been initiated to get recommendations on this new law, which would also be extended to the commercial establishments besides the industries.

This was stated by Joint Director of Sindh Labour Department Ghufran Memon while speaking at a round table on “Health and Safety at Workplace: Local Realities and Global Perspective” jointly organized by Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research and Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST) at SZABIST Campus on Saturday.

Currently only one chapter of Factories Act 1934 deals with OHS and there is need for a separate law, he said adding that for the new law the first consultation would be held in Sukkur, and then in Hyderabad and Karachi during the current month.

The provincial government has already enacted the Industrial Relations Act, in which agriculture workers and fishermen are also included in the definition of workers, thus they have now a right to form their unions and avail the same benefits available for industrial and commercial labour.

Talking about Ali Enterprises incident at Baldia Karachi in 2012, Memon said according to the provincial Labour department’s record that factory was not registered, thus no inspection was conducted there. He said it was incorrect to say that inspection of industries was not happening in Sindh.

Sindh government had started registration of home based workers and the process had been initiated from Hyderabad as a pilot project with the support from UN Women, and after that it would be extended to the entire province.

Speaking on the occasion, senior lawyer Faisal Siddiqi said that despite the fact no inspection had ever been conducted in the Ali Enterprise, the garment factory had acquired Social Accountability 8000 certificate from an Italian company to export its products in the European markets. “If we need industrial and employment growth we need to follow all the relevant laws of the land.”

At Ali enterprises, he pointed out that the owners had locked all the exit doors in order to save their valuable things inside the factory. The owners fled away from the scene when fire spread over, keeping the doors locked. It was a murder according to the law, he added.

Faisal Siddiqi said it is a common belief among wealthy people and society in general in Pakistan that poor are thieves and that was exactly the same excuse the owners of Ali Enterprise offered before the court. He regretted that after the fire, the civic agencies’ response was very poor because they did not know how to deal with such an incident.

He said the businessmen and industrialists were united to save the owners of the factory after the incident. They asked the then Prime Minister to order the police to withdraw murder charges against the owners and he ordered so. It was the High Court, which has stayed the PM’s orders.

“Business community’s mobilization to save their colleagues was quite amazing.” They had understood that if these two people were nabbed and punished a large scale inspection would be started in all factories and they would also not be spared. For the last two years, the criminal case against owners and other responsible is still pending and not heard.

He regretted that the society has almost forgotten the case, except for few organisations like PILER and others that have filed a case in the Sindh High Court including few individuals like artists at Indus Valley School, who held an exhibition last year at Arts Council and launched a memorial wall on the second anniversary.

Because of the case in the High Court each victim’s family has received around Rs. 1.3 million as compensation. The High Court has asked the government to immediately release the death grant worth Rs. 500,000 for each victim and it is hoped that they would receive it soon.

Siddiqi pointed out that the High Court’s case has played an important role in provision of compensation to the families, which is actually a right of the workers. A Germany buying company, KIK has paid US $ 1 million as an immediate relief. The amount has been distributed among the victims families through the Judicial Commission appointed by Sindh High Court headed by a retired Judge of the Supreme Court. The foreign buyer had also promised to pay long-term compensation to the families. “If they don’t pay the long term compensation we would initiate a case against the company in Germany.”

We have also initiated a criminal complaint against RINA, the Italian inspection company, which had issued a certificate to Ali Enterprises.

Siddiqi underlined the need to have a new Fire and Safety Code at least for Karachi city. An implementation procedure should also be provided in the Code, he added.

Chief Executive of PILER Karamat Ali gave a global perspective of the labour situation. He said Pakistan is a signatory of many ILO conventions including the eight Conventions dealing with Core Labour Rights. Tracing history of inclusion of social clauses in the international trade treaties like GATT and then World Trade Organisation (WTO), Karamat Ali said there was very big resistance from the developing countries including Pakistan and India not to include the social clauses in these treaties. Even some trade unions also joined the state governments.

In the GSP-Plus case, the European Union has asked Pakistan to implement total 27 International Conventions including 16 related to ILO on labour. These international standards which Pakistan has already rectified must be implemented to continue enjoying duty free access of Pakistani products in the European markets.

He said before the independence more workers were enjoying right to organize themselves in collective bargaining or trade unions. But after the independence less number of workers can enjoy this right because of inclusion of exclusions. Now only 2-3 percent workers are registered in trade unions. In the Indian Trade Unions Act of 1926 only uniform employees of the Army were excluded from taking part in trade unions, where as civil employees of the Army were allowed to join the trade unions. This exclusion further extended after abolition of this Act in 1959 and introduction of Industrial Relations laws in 1969.

Senior trade union leader Shafeeq Ghauri said provision of health and safety at the work place is not included in the government’s priorities. Only after the horrible incident at Baldia factory where over 260 people lost their lives, the government has realized the importance of OHS at workplace.

Employers and industries are bound to comply with the Factory Act 1935 and Sindh Factories Rules 1975, which are the relevant laws in the province.

In Sindh inspection was totally banned through an unwritten order by Chief Minister of Sindh in 2007 under which the inspection by the state functionaries Labour Department was totally stopped.

Dr Riaz Shaikh, head of social science department of SZABIST deplored that in the post-colonial era the state is ignorant and lethargic towards solution of the people’s problems. In the floods we have witnessed the state has escaped from itself responsibility. Similar it also happened with the Baldia fire incident. People are helpless and fail to find a place to register their protests, he added.

Zulfiqar Shah of PILER, Aziz Memon, Director of Labour Department, Government of Sindh and other participants of meeting took part in the discussion.

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