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Gadani tragedy fuels calls for safe working conditions

KARACHI: A large number of labourers working at the ship-breaking yard in Gadani have called for payment of compensation to the families of workers who lost their lives in the Nov 1 accident.

Eleven workers died and scores were injured when an explosion occurred at an oil tanker that was brought to the yard for dismantling. The death toll rose to 26 on Sunday after the death of three injured workers.

Work at the ship-breaking yard remained suspended for the fourth day running on Sunday.

The protesters, mostly from Gadani, Hub and Karachi’s Baldia Town, marched from Regal Chowk to the press club in the afternoon. Relatives of those who were killed in the 2012 Baldia Town factory fire also participated in the protest.

The protest was organised by the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF). Addressing the protesters, NTUF general secretary Nasir Mansoor called for doing away with the contract (Thekedari) system at the ship-breaking yard. “If we want safe working conditions, certain issues need to be immediately addressed,” he added.

He said compensation for the workers should be given priority. “We suggest Rs3 million as compensation for every family which lost a breadwinner in the accident and Rs500,000 for the injured.”

He urged the authorities to ensure safe working conditions at the ship-breaking yard.

Mr Mansoor said India had a far bigger ship-breaking industry and used to have tragedies bigger than in Pakistan.
But, he added, the country had managed to bring down the number of incidents by introducing a code and imposing rules and regulations.

As majority of the workers at the ship-breaking yard and those present at the protest were Pakhtuns, the president of the NTUF’s Sindh chapter, Gul Rahman, spoke in Pushto.

Mr Rahman asked workers to forge unity for getting their rights. He said around 12,000 people were working at the yard in Gadani without the cover of the Employees Old Age Benefits Institution (EOBI), insurance or any social security.

He said since 1968, 800 workers had lost their lives in accidents at the site.

He criticised the government for “showing a lacklustre response” to the incident. The chief minister of Balochistan visited Gadani three days after the explosion and that too only for seven minutes, the NTUF leader recalled. “Such apathy can be changed only through agitation by workers.”

Bashir Ahmed Mahmoodani, who heads the Gadani Ship Breaking Workers Union, thanked the Edhi Foundation for despatching volunteers to Gadani soon after the explosion. After the explosion, fire tenders had backed off and no senior official was present at the place, he regretted.

The speakers called for introduction of a “ship breaking code”, similar to one being followed in India.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has said it will compile a report about the accident.
According to an HRCP fact-finding committee which visited Gadani after the incident, there is no record of the exact number of people working at the yard at the time of explosion. The entry sheets, according to some officials present at the site, is not available as the office had been “locked for outsiders” soon after the incident.

Abdul Wahid Shahwani adds from Khuzdar: A large number of protesters carrying bodies of two labourers who died in Gadani blocked the Karachi-Quetta highway for several hours on Sunday.

The two labourers, identified as Sanaullah and Alam Khan, succumbed to their burn injuries in Karachi’s Civil Hospital on Sunday.

Hundreds of vehicles remained stuck on the highway for several hours.

However, the protesters agreed to call off their protest after negotiations with the administration.

Meanwhile, police have arrested four people, including the contractor and the manager of the ship in which the explosion occurred. But the owner has not been taken into custody because he is in a hospital these days.

Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2016

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