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Affectees of Baldia factory fire protest against ILO’s ‘undemocratic attitude’

Affectees of Baldia factory fire protest against ILO’s ‘undemocratic attitude’

KARACHI: Affectees of the Baldia factory fire staged a demonstration in front of the Karachi Press Club (KPC) here on Sunday in protest against what they termed an undemocratic attitude of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The demo was organised by the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), Association of Affectees of Baldia Factory Fire and Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research (Piler), led by association leaders Muhammad Siddique and Husna Khatoon.

Among the protesters were a large number of the heirs of the martyred labourers, injured workers, and representatives of political, social and human rights organisations and trade unions, including Nasir Mansoor of the NTUF, Karamat Ali of the National Labor Council (NLC), Gul Rehman of the Workers’ Rights Movement, Khizer Qazi of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), and Muhammad Siddique, Hasna Khatoon and Muhammad Jameel of the Association of Affectees of Baldia Factory Fire.

Speaking on the occasion, the protest leaders said that in 2016, a pact was inked between the German brand KiK, IndustriaAll Global Union and Clean Cloth Campaign (CCC) under which the German brand handed over $5.1 million to the ILO for a long-term compensation to the heirs of those died in the fire and the injured.

NTUF, Piler lend their support to protesters

Under the agreement, an oversight committee was also formed for investment in Pakistan, payment to the affectees in installments and other related matters with the representation of the related labour organisations, heirs of the victims, employers, labour department and the ILO, they said.

In the pact, they said, it was decided that the money would be invested in Pakistan so that lifetime payment to the affectees could be made possible and till the funds were invested with mutual agreement, an agreed amount would be paid to the affectees on a monthly basis.

In that regard, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between the ILO and government of Sindh through which monthly payment to the affectees was carried out through the Sindh Employees Social Security Institute (Sessi), the protest leaders added.

But violating the agreement and without consulting the stakeholders, the ILO inked an agreement with an insurance company and handed over all the funds to it, they said. The affectees were not taken into confidence before or after that development. Despite the demands of the affectees and labour organisations, they said, the agreement with the insurance firm was not being shared with them. That attitude of the ILO was against the principle of transparency and tantamount to disrespect to the affectees, they observed.

On the other hand, the Sindh labour department in connivance with the ILO announced to disband the oversight committee without any consideration or prior information, they said. That undemocratic attitude of the ILO and unilateral decision of the labour department had created uncertainty among the affectees of the Baldia factory fire, they added.

Refusal to share the agreement of the ILO with the insurance company and announcement of the labour department to dissolve the committee had not only made that affair dubious, but also created a lot of bitterness for the 260 affected families, they said. But the ILO and the labour department were not willing to answer to the reservations of the affectees, they added.

The affectees of the Baldia factory fire have demanded to make public the secret agreement between the ILO and the insurance company and immediately restore the oversight committee.

Continuing their struggle, the affectees had consulted noted legal experts in that regard to initiate litigation next month, sources said. In continuation of their protest, they would hold demonstrations in front of Sindh Assembly and ILO office in Karachi.

Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2023

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