21 May 2016

Shipbreaking yard workers: Deplorable working conditions endemic at Gadani

KARACHI: The National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) on Wednesday demanded the government to take notice of the plight of workers at the Gadani shipbreaking industry, who are being forced to work in highly dangerous and deplorable conditions.

“Gadani shipbreaking yard has become a graveyard of old ships as well as workers who regularly die due to lack of health and safety facilities,” Nasir Mansoor, Deputy General Secretary NTUF, said in a press conference organised at the Karachi Press Club.

He regretted that due to lack of precautionary measures, accidents are being reported regularly at Gadani and in the last two months two workers have died and more than one dozen injured.

“Despite demands, labour laws are not being implemented in this industry and workers are not getting any incentives from the related government departments.

“The workers at Gadani have been playing their due role in catering the needs of the iron and steel industry for the last 50 years, however, the government is not paying any attention to their problems. These workers are getting meager wages and they are forced to do overtime.

They are deprived of making unions including appointment letters and registration with the social security organization or Employees Old Age Benefit Institution (EOBI).”

The union said the main issue of Gadani shipbreaking is lack of health and safety measures and due to this workers face accidents almost on a daily basis. The workers are deprived of safety shoes, leather gloves, protective helmets, overalls and fire extinguishing equipment.

Recently, a worker, Muhammad Asif, died on plot number 45 when a ship caught fire. Another worker, Muhammad Azeem, died on plot 88 when a heavy iron plate fell over him. Several other workers have been injured seriously in a blast at plot number seven and eight. The police have been avoiding registering first information reports (FIR) in these cases and trying to close the cases by concluding that the workers died due to their own fault.

Gadani is the second largest shipbreaking center of the world after Alang, Mumbai where more than 15,000 workers are directly employed while another two million are earning livelihood indirectly from it. At present, there is a boom in the shipbreaking sector and more than 45 ships are being broken at Gadani.

However, working conditions for workers are still the same.

Mansoor demanded the government to announce a shipbreaking industry policy immediately in consultation with the representatives of labour unions.

“All workers should be registered with EOBI, safety during work should be ensured, right to make labour unions, and should be allowed to take part in a referendum under the labour department.

“In every shipbreaking plot, the service of a dispensary and ambulance should be provided and canteen and arrangement of clean drinking water should be ensured. The government should ensure payment of death grant to heirs of all workers who die during work, while compensation should be paid to the injured.

He said that an illegal contract system is at its peak in the industry and the contractors have got a free hand to exploit the workers. “These contractors have virtually made the workers their slaves.”

Source: The Express Tribune. 19 May 2016

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