Baldia factory fire tragedy: German firm urged to pay compensation

Updated December 15, 2014

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Family members of the Baldia Town factory fire victims stage a protest outside the Karachi Press Club on Sunday.—White Star
Family members of the Baldia Town factory fire victims stage a protest outside the Karachi Press Club on Sunday.—White Star

KARACHI: A number of families of the Baldia factory fire victims took out a rally from Regal Chowk to the Karachi Press Club on Sunday to urge German textile discounter KIK to pay compensation as per rules of the International Labour Organisation.

For the past few weeks, the families of the Baldia fire victims have been holding protest demonstrations and consultation meetings to discuss the compensation the provincial and federal governments owed to them as well as to push international organisations to honour the agreements made with labour rights groups.

The rally was organised by the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) and an advocacy group for the families of the victims named the Baldia Factory Fire Affectees Association.

Speakers told the participants in the rally that their main concern at the moment was the reluctance of the Germany-based company, KIK, to pay compensation.

Head of the association, Mohammad Jabir, who lost his son in the fire, said real estate developer Malik Riaz had announced a compensation which had not yet been paid.

At the same time, the compensation announced by Pakistan Muslim League-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif, when he was the opposition leader at the time of the incident, had also not been paid.

“We are putting pressure on these institutions and high profile people again and again because otherwise this case will also be shut down like many others. And these people will be forgotten soon enough,” he said.

The good news shared by the speakers was that the Sindh High Court would release compensation to the families in the coming few days.

Mohammad Jabir added that there was a need for overall inspection of mills and factories operating at large in Karachi.

“Life and health safety measures are usually not followed and lead to many unreported disasters. Labour rights groups are not encouraged. And at the same time, labour laws need to be implemented as without them there may be another Ali Enterprise-like situation in the coming weeks.”

The sole aim of holding rallies and meetings was to keep the issue alive in the public conscience, general secretary of the NTUF Nasir Mansoor said.

Speaking about the KIK, he added that the company owners had been “delaying talks regarding the compensation for the past two years under various pretexts”.

He added that pursuing a case such as the Baldia factory tragedy came with its own issues. “People usually think we are doing this for publicity or to get money. Such allegations are obviously baseless. We only want to continue our fight with the international organisations that are still noncommittal when it comes to paying the labourers,” he added.

Next year in February, a team of lawyers will be coming to Karachi to assist rights groups in following up a case against the KIK and social audit firm RINA.

Although the KIK has assured of payment of half a million rupees to the families for a temporary period, it has been rejected by the families who demand a “proper release of funds”.

Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2014