The Express Tribune – Victims of neglect: Gadani shipyard workers live on the edge

(Written by Mohammad Zafar)

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3 May 2015 – QUETTA: Workers at the Gadani ship-breaking yard have been facing economic deprivation and hardship for the last decade or so. Their troubles stem mainly from the government’s lack of attention.

Despite the unsafe working conditions and potential health risks in Gadani, little has been done to shield workers from harm and provide them proper medical care.

The head of the labour union, Bashir Hamdani, told The Express Tribune that there are neither facilities for the labourers at the yard, nor are there any arrangements for clean drinking water. “Due to the non-availability of machinery, labourers have to carry heavy loads on their shoulders because of which they often sustain injuries during their work,” he said.

The labour union chief said the ship-breaking yard and its workers were victims of neglect despite paying seven billion rupees in taxes to the Federal Board of Revenue.

“Between 2000 and April 2015, 105 labourers have died in the ship breaking yard but up to 43 labourer’s heirs had yet to be paid the compensation promised,” Hamdani said. “A majority of yard workers have stomach disorders due to the filthy water we consume,” he said.

Hamdani pointed out that as many as 132 ship breaking plots are available on 12 kilometres of land in Gadani – counted by industry experts as the world’s third largest shipping breaking yard. The actual ship-breaking industry is located 8 kilometres away from the main Gadani town.

Kareem Khan, general secretary of the labour union, says that though the number of plots in the ship-breaking yard have increased to over 132 in Gadani only 32 of them are registered. “Ships from Iran, Europe, Libya, Kuwait, Egypt, Iraq and Greece come to be scrapped here,” he said.

Some 9,000 labourers are working in 132 these plots. And yet the authorities haven’t provided even basic health care to them. What they do have is a clinic with one bed and an ambulance for the workers, he said.

The weight of the ships brought to Gadani ranges between 1,000 tons and 80,000 tons. “Three to four hundred labourers work here to break a single ship,” he said. Among the work force one can find loaders, helpers, ship welders, field welders, flakers, crane operators, fork lifters, sweepers, foremen, wrench operators, drivers and store-keepers.

Kareem Khan said it takes three months or to reduce a ship to scrap in Gadani. “There are as of now 240 ships scrapped here while around 35 ships are anchored to be scrapped,” he said.

Mohammad Sharif, an employee working in a ship breaking yard, said he suffered burn injuries last year when he was caught in an explosion on one of the ships. There were burn injuries all over his body. “I had to spend 0.2 million rupees to recover from those injuries,” Sharif said. “The government should at least make a good health unit for the ship breaking yard.”

“Also, we don’t have facilities to dispose of ship waste,” Sharif said. A toxic brew of chemicals and engine oil is dumped into the sand close to the shore. “There is a foul smell here. It is overpowering but we are now used to it,” he added.