Safety of Workers in Bangladesh

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014

THE concept of safety at the workplace as a fundamental human right is slowly making its way into the ethos of a South Asian society burdened with the notion of destiny. ‘If the roof falls on your head, too bad. You were fated to die this way while at work.’ Workers and other stakeholders are now rising up against this farcical justification for the inhuman treatment of labour. If not in Pakistan, at least in Bangladesh workers are demanding safety and stakeholders have begun to listen.

Bangladesh is taking the lead in giving higher priority to workers’ safety and the prevention of industrial accidents though it learnt its lesson the hard way: from 2005 to 2013, industrial accidents in the readymade garments sector killed over 2,000 workers and injured a higher number. These accidents occurred due to gross violations of building safety codes and labour standards. The case is not different here.

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Baldia factory fire: two years after

Published in Dawn, September 11th , 2014

“The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.” — Voltaire

IT has been two years since Pakistan’s worst industrial disaster took place in a garment factory in Baldia Town, Karachi on Sept 9, 2012. A fire in the factory that day led to the loss of 259 precious lives and injuries to 55 workers who got trapped in the building because three out of four doors were locked from the outside. Locking the workers inside the premises is not uncommon in garment factories exporting to international buyers. An inquiry report released by the FIA as well as the case proceedings revealed violations of labour laws, safety laws and building by-laws by the factory owners and a number of state institutions.

Two notable aspects of the follow-up to this disaster are the nature of the criminal proceedings in the Sindh High Court (SHC) and the compensation to the bereaved families. Developments in both took place due to the pressure built by civil society organisations.

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Safety of Electrical Workers

Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2014

THOUGH we do not take electricity for granted due to outages, yet energy is at the heart of everyday living. What we take for granted is the national grid system — transmission lines, high-tension cables, substations, pylons, transformers and the dangling maze of naked wires visible in every street.

We seldom think about those who keep the grid system running even when we spot a lineman perched precariously on a vehicle-mounted ladder, examining a pole, repairing the cables, or meddling with dangerous-looking circuit boxes. Unless one day at the breakfast table we read in the morning paper that 25 linemen died in the line of duty within two weeks.

The news recently of the workers’ rally of the Lahore Electric Supply Company demanding investigation into these preventable deaths and enforcement of safe working conditions is the tip of the iceberg. The underbelly of the work structure supporting the edifice of economic growth pulsates with contractual, informal labour deprived of social protection, including protection from fatal accidents and injuries at workplaces.

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Labour and State Institutions

Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2014

Labour relations, or industrial relations, refer to a system of governance of interaction between employers, workers and the state. Based on the concepts that set the ground rules for governance of a tricky relationship between two unequal partners — employers and workers — labour relations are worked out under a body of legislation and administrative procedures mediated and implemented by the state. The role of the state is crucial in determining the direction and the policies of labour relations.

Let’s begin with the Labour and Human Resources Department, Sindh which carries out eight tasks related to labour relations (law enforcement, dispute resolution, labour courts, social security, vocational training, facilitation of employment, minimum wage fixation, labour welfare) through seven attached departments. The Directorate of Labour is one of the seven departments and is entrusted with the tasks of trade union registration, determination of collective bargaining agents, settlement of industrial disputes and enforcement of labour laws.

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