31 October 2016

Out on the streets: ‘They don’t consider us humans’

KARACHI: Demanding their right to health and safety, the Gadani ship-breaking yard workers held a demonstration outside the Karachi Press Club on Sunday and called upon the federal and Balochistan governments to address their ‘long-pending’ issues.

The protesters said they live in inhumane conditions and have zero protection in terms of safety gear as well as monetary benefits. PHOTOS: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

A large number of workers arrived in Karachi from Gadani, Balochistan to lodge their protest against the authorities’ apathy towards the problems they have been facing for the last three to four decades. The event was organised by the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF).

Addressing the demonstration, NTUF president Rafiq Baloch said that the lawmakers should enact legislation to regularise workers at the Gadani ship breaking yard, which is one of the largest in the world, and to provide health and safety facilities.

He said that they had put forward their demands a number of times in the past but the rulers of the country did not pay any heed. “It seems that the government doesn’t even [consider] the labourers humans,” he said. “They haven’t even been given their basic rights to fair wage and social security.”

NTUF deputy general secretary Nasir Mansoor said that the federal government should ratify the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, 2009, and make laws in light of it. “There is a dire need of some special laws for the ship breaking workers because the conditions in which they have been forced to work [are] extremely dangerous and inhumane,” said Mansoor.

He said that there were around 20,000 workers associated with this industry but hardly any one of them was registered with the Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution and was given social security and pension.

“Some of the subjects fell within the domain of [the] federal government while some were with the provincial government,” he said, adding that neither tier of the government was actually taking a notice of the situation.

Ship-breaking Mazdoor Union president Bashir Mehmoodani said that accidents involving casualties are a routine at Gadani. Sharing a latest accident, he said that a worker, Wali Muhammad, died on October 21 after falling from a ship that was being dismantled.

“The matter is still pending as no action has been taken against the yard owners for not providing the worker with safety equipment,” he said, adding that the ship breaking work is as dangerous as mining and the workers were asked to maintain their safety on their own.

The protesters demanded that the government should address their issues and make legislation to protect them. They added that a worker who spends all his life in this field does not even get pension after retirement.

Talking about why the event was held in Karachi, the organisers said that it is because the provincial capital, Quetta, is far away from Gadani than Karachi. Therefore, they said, they decided to bring their plight into light here.

Source: The Express Tribune. 29 October 2016

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