Call to make public findings of Baldia fire probe

Updated September 07, 2013

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KARACHI, Sept 6: A panel of speakers representing the Pakistan Institute of Labour Union and Research and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has demanded that the inquiry report of the Baldia factory fire be made public.

Speaking at the Karachi Press Club on Friday, Asad Iqbal Butt of the HRCP said that the people held responsible in the inquiry report compiled by retired Justice Zahid Kurban Alavi be prosecuted and punished.

“The report was handed over to the chief minister of Sindh a long time ago. We demand and urge the government of Sindh to stop appeasing those responsible for the disaster,” said Mr Butt while reading out from a paper.

The Baldia factory fire is a worst such incident in the history of Pakistan that killed more than 250 people. For months after the incident families kept standing outside the Edhi morgue in Sohrab Goth to identify their family members.

Speaking at the press conference, deputy general secretary of National Trade Union Federation Nasir Mansoor said that even a year after the incident factories in and around SITE still operated unchecked.

He said an Italy-based certification and auditing authority had declared that Ali Enterprises was following the basic principles and standards for workers. A certificate was issued on Aug 20 by the firm and twenty-one days later the inferno killed more than 250 workers in the factory.

“The same firm has issued similar certificates to more than 100 industrial companies across Pakistan. Those companies need to be inspected on a priority basis. But so far nothing has been done about it,” he added.

Mr Mansoor said a team of lawyers from Italy, France and Germany would file a case against the Italy-based certification and auditing authority to seek compensation for the Baldia factory workers. For that purpose, Piler and other labour organisations would provide assistance to them.

The case would help in providing “proper compensation for the victims, as well as unveil corrupt practices of high-profile companies,” Mr Masnsoor said.

Speaking about the investigation after the Baldia fire, the panelists said they were “not at all satisfied with the process”.

He said the counsel for the victims, Faisal Siddiqui, had been threatened over pursuing the case. “He is still very much fighting for the cause of the poor who were killed in the factory fire. We are not going to back down,” he added.

Investigations into the case revealed some lesser known facts about the plight of the workers. Apparently, apart from a few “senior ranking officials” in the factory, most workers were not registered with the Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution or any other social security institution in the province.

“There has been no investigation or even talks about ensuring the safety of workers, caught in a similar scenario,” added Mr Butt.

A number of families have not been compensated yet, which Mr Mansoor attributed to the fact that some of the bodies were completely “unidentifiable”. Secondly, he said, in compliance of an order by a commission set up by the Sindh High Court in April this year, the relevant Shariah law is being followed to compensate the families. And there is a reason behind it, he adds: “When the wife and kids of a victim were compensated, it left the parents behind and vice versa. So, we are following the Shariah laws to ensure an equal distribution of compensation money among the close family of a victim.”

To commemorate the first anniversary of the Baldia factory fire, Piler and other labour rights organisations plan to hold a candlelight vigil outside the Baldia factory on Sept 10. On Sept 11, a rally will be taken out by labour unions from the Regal Chowk to the KPC followed by a memorial meeting at the Arts Council.