13 January 2017

Pakistan Shipbreaking: Vulnerable workers

As both experts and labour unions had warned, another fire broke out at the Gadani ship-breaking yard on Thursday within a month of its reopening. Fears that there were new casualties were thankfully proven wrong as the fire was put out before the night was over.

But the incident serves as another reminder that the dangerous working conditions at Gadani still exist. At least a hundred workers were working on an LPG container when the fire broke out. Loss of life was only prevented after workers literally jumped out of the ship in time.

It is clear that the Gadani ship-breaking yard is not ready to be reopened. The federal and provincial governments have not taken the measures that were promised after the November 1 disaster, in which at least 25 workers were burnt to death. We have said before that the Gadani ship-breaking yard has been successful because of the very fact that labour and safety regulations have been ignored. Instead of ensuring the safety of workers, the ship-breaking yard was reopened on pressure from the yard owners.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) shared its report into the     November 1 disaster on the same day as this latest fire. According to the HRCP, there is still no clarity on how many workers were on board the ship when the November 1 fire incident took place. Only the number of skilled workers was counted, but reportedly more workers were on it.

Only a week ago, workers at the ship-breaking yard said that the real death toll may have been as high as 80. The fact that the death toll is still estimated to be anywhere between two dozen and 80 workers is another indicator of the complete disregard of labour laws at the ship-breaking yard. As it stands, even the compensation amounts promised to the workers who died in the       November 1 fire has not been paid.

The HRCP also noted that the first response was provided by a poorly equipped rural healthcare centre and just one fire truck. It took 24 hours for a government ambulance to arrive. The Balochistan Labour Department, responsible for inspecting the vessels at the ship-breaking yard, has also been blamed for being clueless in terms of what its responsibilities were. So it stands that none of the issues that make the Gadani ship-breaking yard a potentially serious threat to workers’ safety has been resolved.  Thursday’s     fire is another warning to the government to do something before more workers are lost.

Source: the news. 25 December 2016

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