KARACHI: Labour unions on Wednesday demanded that the authorities provide facilities for the health and safety of labourers at the Gadani ship-breaking yard but disagreed on its closure, with one union insisting that the closure would worsen the living conditions of daily-wage earners.
Activities at the ship-breaking yard were suspended by Lasbela deputy commissioner under Section 144 of the criminal procedure code after five workers were burnt to death in a fire that erupted in an LPG container, Chaumadra, on Jan 9.
Addressing separate press conferences on Wednesday, representatives of the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) as well as the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) said the authorities must ensure provision of facilities for the health and safety of labourers at the ship-breaking yard.
However, they disagreed on one point. Piler demanded that the government keep the ship-breaking yard shut until the facilities are provided, whereas NTUF said shutting it down would worsen the living conditions of daily-wage earners associated with the ship-breaking yard.
Executive director of Piler Karamat Ali demanded that the ship-breaking yard should be closed till the facilities, including ambulance service, a fire brigade and a dispensary, for the workers were provided.
Similar demand for the facilities had been earlier made by NTUF deputy general secretary Nasir Mansoor, but he said the closure of the Gadani ship-breaking yard would not benifit the daily-wage earners.
At the Karachi Press Club, Mr Mansoor was accompanied by the families of the victims as well as union workers at the ship-breaking yard.
Speaking an hour before the press conference by the Piler executive director about the recent spate of accidents at the yard, the NTUF deputy general secretary said the owners of the ship-breaking yard must be punished for their negligence. He added that letting the owners go free after repeated accidents at the ship-breaking yard would “give them a licence to kill”.
“More than 70 per cent of the workers at the ship-breaking yard hail from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They rely on the daily wages they earn at the yard. Closing it down is the easiest way to absolve owners of all responsibility,” he said.
He said that the businessmen and ship-breaking yard owners have made it a habit to shirk their responsibility by paying off the families of the victims. In this context, the government and the institutions responsible to implement laws had failed miserably, he added.
Mr Mansoor said that 32 labourers lost their lives at the ship-breaking yard in the past three months only.
Investigations into the cases of the previous fires did not bring out any substantial proof and fix responsibility for the repeated incidents, he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Ali told the media that 12,000 labourers currently worked at the ship-breaking yard. “This sector does not come under any ministry or labour department. Balochistan Development Authority is responsible for it and it is unfortunate that it has not provided any facility at the yard. Ship-breaking needs to be regulated and come under the labour department,” he added.
He demanded that a separate board on the pattern of Karachi Dock Labour Board be formed for the workers.
All the previous meetings with the authorities, specifically the commissioner of Kalat and district commissioner of Hub, seemed a pack of hollow promises, said Mr Mansoor. “It was decided that a ship-breaking code would be formed. At the same time, the ship-breaking yard will be registered with the labourers getting special permit cards,” he added.
Twenty-six workers were killed on Nov 1 when a decommissioned oil tanker, Aces, docked at yard number 54, exploded during gas welding. Four persons are still considered ‘missing’ since the incident in which many onboard the fateful ship were injured.
On Jan 8, 24-year-old Dilshaad fell from the emergency lifeboat of the ship named Snowdon, at yard number 69. According to eyewitnesses, the emergency lock on the boat broke. Just a day later on Jan 9, five workers were burnt to death by a fire that erupted at an LPG container on a ship named Chaumadra, at yard number 60. A similar incident had been reported from the same yard on Dec 22 though workers had managed to quickly disembark the ship at that time.
Trade unions reiterated their demand that all the owners be arrested and punished for their negligence.
Source: the dawn. 12 January 2017http://www.dawn.com/news/1307804/labour-unions-seek-health-safety-facilities-at-gadani