19 May 2016 – It is no secret that labour rights in Pakistan are rarely implemented and ensuring worker safety is barely a concern for employers everywhere in the country. This is symbolised by the deplorable conditions that workers at Gadani’s shipbreaking yard are forced to work in, something that was recently pointed out by the National Trade Union Federation. The work involved in the shipbreaking industry is often dangerous and requires employers to provide safety equipment for their workers as well as ensure that all precautionary measures are taken to make the working environment as safe as possible. Unfortunately, this is something that is routinely ignored, leading to accidents occurring on a regular basis. In the last two months, two workers at the yard have died after meeting with fatal accidents. The workers are deprived of safety shoes, leather gloves, protective helmets, and even basic fire extinguishing equipment. This is in addition to the meagre wages and lack of access to social security, with labour laws being flouted with impunity.
This state of affairs is not limited to Gadani. Factories, mines and businesses all over the country have little regard for the safety of their employees. There is the recent case of five factory workers who died in Karachi after being instructed to clean an underground chemical tank without being provided with any safety equipment. Human life, apparently, is so cheap in Pakistan, that it is cheaper for factory owners to risk the lives of workers than buy them gas masks. It is shocking that in a country, which witnessed one of the most horrific factory fires of recent times, there is barely any debate about labour rights. One of the outcomes of the Baldia factory fire should have been a shake-up in the way labour laws are implemented. But even the brutal death of nearly 250 people did not result in the required push to ensure worker safety. One wonders how many deaths will it take before labour departments become serious about protecting vulnerable workers who form the backbone of our economy.