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Four years on, families, activists gather to mourn Baldia factory fire victims

Four years on, families, activists gather to mourn Baldia factory fire victims

KARACHI: On the fourth anniversary of the Baldia factory fire, the worst industrial disaster in the country’s history, the victims’ families and labour rights organisations on Sunday welcomed the decision from Geneva about compensating the families of the victims of the blaze.

The Ali Enterprises Fire Affectees Association (AEFAA), National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), and other rights groups called the agreement in which German cloth discounter KiK submitted to pay the compensation to the victims’ families as “historic”.

KiK would pay $5.15 million in compensation to the families of those who died in the fire overnight. This has been done with the help of international actors’ involvement in the negotiation process, said the individuals and bodies that have been struggling for the cause since 2012.

“We are indebted to International Labour Organisation (ILO), IndustriALL Global Union, Clean Clothes Campaign and German government for their help. With this decision, a long-standing demand of labourers will be fulfilled,” said a statement drafted by the organisers of the event outside the factory where hundreds of labourers perished in 2012.

Victims’ families, industrial and home-based workers, and other organisations attended the event in hundreds to pay homage to their fallen comrades. The event began with a one-minute silence.

AEFAA senior vice president Saeeda Khatoon, NTUF’s Nasir Mansoor and Rafiq Baloch, advisor to Sindh CM on labour Saeed Ghani, social worker Faisal Edhi, rights activists Karamat Ali, Habib Junaidi, Zehra Khan, Gul Rehman, and others spoke at the event.

Speakers said the incident was one of the worst industrial disasters globally in which 260 people perished. Four years on, the victims’ families were still awaiting justice. Mentioning the charge sheet of the case, they expressed reservations about its contents.

The charge sheet and police’s decision to clear the factory owners of the charges would be challenged in the higher court, the speakers said, adding that whatever were the causes, most deaths occurred because the victims found no escape route. The factory itself and its working conditions were in violation of the labour laws in place, they said.

Excluding owners and others from the case despite having evidence on record against them was inexplicable, they added.

Describing the plight of the heirs of the victims, speakers said during the four years many of them had died after suffering excessive mental stress. They said 17 bodies charred beyond recognition were still unidentified showing the government’s apathy. “Their DNA reports have not arrived,” said an activist.

They referred to the pledge of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, when he was the opposition leader, promising to pay Rs300,000 to each family and the announcement of former Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah to provide a plot and job to each of the victims’ families, none of which, added the speakers, ever materialised. Similarly, the promise of monetary relief by a builder had not yet been fulfilled completely, they added.

A ‘pain and suffering’ case had been filed in a German court against KiK to create a global network against human and labour rights violations across the world. “Recently,” said a speaker, “the German court has decided that case expenses of the litigants will be paid by the German government.”

They said the victims had also filed a case against Italian social auditing company RINA for issuing a fake safety certificate to Ali Enterprises.

Talking about the compensation deal with KiK, they said an ILO fact-finding mission recently visited Pakistan to make assessments. Afterwards, they added, talks were held in Geneva on Sept5-6 in which IndustriALL Global Union and Clean Clothes Campaign represented the victims. “KiK has agreed to pay USD5.15 million in compensation to the victims.”

Participants at the event called for all factories be registered under the Factories Act and labour laws be implemented. They proposed that Sept11 be observed as health and safety day, particularly in Sindh.

The participants said the burnt factory be turned into a monument of the martyred workers where a facility to train labourers on health and safety be established.

Later, Advocate Faisal Siddiqi at a press conference at Karachi Press Club spoke in detail about the deal agreed upon with KiK.

He said the compensation included $250,000 margin for a fluctuation in costs, meaning that US$4.9 million would go to victims. A mechanism for the payment would be devised by the provincial and federal governments.

Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2016

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