KARACHI: Families of the victims of the Baldia factory that was gutted in September 2012 took out a rally, led by the National Trade Union Federation, from the Arts Council traffic intersection to the Karachi Press Club on Sunday.

The main demand of the participants was that the Employees’ Old Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) issue them pension permits.

Mohammad Jabir — father of 22-year-old victim of the Baldia factory fire Mohammad Jahanzaib and scrap dealer in the Shershah Market — is now heading an association formed about a month ago by the families of the fire victims to help them with the compensation process and “to speak for the neglected families”.

Speaking at the rally in the afternoon, surrounded by families of victims at the Arts Council, Mr Jabir said that the EOBI was reluctant to issue pensions as “most of the victims who died in the fire were young and not eligible to get one”.

A mother of one of the victims — 30-year-old Mohammad Ayan — also spoke at the rally. When the woman started to speak she began crying. She said that the families were being ignored by the higher-ups. “Two years after the incident we are left to fend for ourselves,” she added.

Speaking about their demands, Nasir Mansoor, deputy general secretary of the NTUF, said that at present there were facing “multiple issues” regarding Baldia factory fire victims.

“One is the lifelong payment of compensation to the families. The EOBI is refusing to allow pension for more than five years. We are working to resolve the issue by communicating our reservations with them. We want them to provide a lifelong pension to the families who have lost their breadwinners,” he said.

Speaking further, he said that soon after the tragedy, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and property tycoon Malik Riaz announced compensations for the families — 120 of them. However, they haven’t heard back from them as yet, he added.

“Only a few among the families received compensation, but 120 of them are still waiting,” he added.

Apart from that, the trade union is also planning to file a petition against two international companies — the RINA and the KIK. The former would be sued for issuing a social audit certificate and the latter for not agreeing to pay the long term compensation to the families, he said.

The NTUF also demanded that the government introduce proper protection and safety laws which could be implemented to ensure safety for labourers and factory workers.

As for compensations, the counsel for the victims of the Baldia factory fire, Faisal Siddiqi, had called a press conference along with the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) executive director Karamat Ali on the same issue a week ago.

In the press conference, both of them made it clear that the first phase of the compensation had been done with and they were waiting for the next phase of the compensation to progress soon.

However, Mr Jabir said all stakeholders were not taken on board during negotiations and meetings. “They [the advocate and the Piler] do not take the affected families along with them whenever they go for negotiations. We are not taken into confidence whenever a press conference on the issue is being held.”

While supporting the statement made by Mr Jabir, Nasir Mansoor of the NTUF added that “despite approaching them many times, we are not involved in the process of distributing compensation to the families, or updated about what is happening in this regard. Our issue is that all stakeholders and comrades must be involved in the process.”

Speaking to Dawn, Karamat Ali of Piler, however, negated the claims and explained: “It is in fact good that labour organisations are also taking out rallies. We need to build as much pressure as we can on the international companies. As for our meetings with them (KIK) are concerned, since we have signed a memorandum of understanding with them, it is required that we meet them too and in case of a breach of an agreement sue them as well. It does not sound practical to take so many people along during consultations.”

He added that at present there were multiple organisations working along with Piler for getting compensation for the families, including the Fisherfolk Forum, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the NTUF. “The organisations concerned are always informed before a press conference. Whether they show up or not it depends on them. There is no controversy. We are working on a similar cause and it is just a matter of communicating with each other rather than through media.”

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2014