KARACHI: The Baldia Factory fire tragedy, which could have been a catalyst for bringing in more focused policies for workers’ rights by the provincial government, has remained unable to produce any lasting effect.

This was stated by executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) Karamat Ali while addressing a press conference on Tuesday at the Karachi Press Club held in connection with the anniversary of the incident that occurred on Sept 11, 2012.

Accompanied by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan representatives and activists from various trade and labour unions, Mr Ali said most families of the Baldia factory fire tragedy were compensated, “but the compensation is not the only solution to deal with such an incident. An overhaul of factories in and around Karachi needs to be carried out”.

Speaking about the commemoration plans being prepared by Piler for the upcoming anniversary, Mr Ali said that there would be a programme at the Arts Council.

A group of students from the Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture will present their project, which includes installation of a wall with 259 bricks engraved with names of the victims of the tragedy.

He informed the media that on the morning of Sept 11, a hearing of the Baldia case was scheduled to be heard by a Sindh High Court bench headed by the chief justice. At the same time, press conferences and commemorative meetings would be held in Dhaka, Delhi, Kathmandu and Colombo, he added.

Although there have been many discussions on the issue, the general apathy towards the incident shown by the government in terms of implementation of laws regarding labour law violations, was not helping the workers cause, he said.

Narrating the incident that occurred two years ago, he said, the three-storey building of Ali Enterprises in Baldia caught fire as a result of which 259 people died and 55 got injured.

The ensuing investigation soon after the incident by the government revealed that the factory was not registered under the Factories Act, 1934 so inspection by the labour department was out of the question. Also, the factory had not been inspected by the electric department since 2004.

“According to the Sindh Industrial Trading Estate’s file, the owners did not allow an inspector to go in for inspection. The closed-circuit TV cameras were not working. Fire alarms system was not installed anywhere in the building. There are other factories in similar conditions which are away from media scrutiny,” he said.

Explaining his point, he said in a recent incident a bangle factory in Hyderabad collapsed on Sept 2, in which 11 people were killed; however, this tragedy failed to generate any interest in the country about the plight of factory workers.

Answering a question about compensation at this point, the counsel for the victims of the Baldia fire, Faisal Siddiqi, said Rs170 million had been distributed among the families through a judicial commission set up by the Sindh High Court.

“It is a verified process with a proper account of the number of cheques sent to the people,” he said. Speaking about workers’ problems in the private sector, Liaquat Sahi, a trade union activist, said usually they were swept under the carpet.

“There are problems in the government sector too. But there are no outright violations of labour rights as happens in the private sector,” he added.

Published in Dawn, September 10th , 2014