Call to stop Baldia fire report from being used for political point-scoring

Updated 13 Feb 2015

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This file photo shows fire-fighters trying to control the blaze at the garment factory in Karachi. —Photo by AFP
This file photo shows fire-fighters trying to control the blaze at the garment factory in Karachi. —Photo by AFP

KARACHI: The families of the Baldia factory fire victims might end up being victimised with their cases disposed of, as the recently released joint investigation team report is being used for political point-scoring rather than helping the cause of the victims, apprehended the National Trade Union of Federation on Thursday.

Speaking at a press conference at the Karachi Press Club, NTUF general secretary Nasir Mansoor said the Baldia factory fire death toll climbed to 260 after another woman wounded in the incident, Nadia, recently succumbed to her injuries.

“The revelations of the JIT have raised a lot of questions — about its authenticity and its sudden appearance in the national and local media — making it seem like a political ploy rather than helping the cause of the Baldia fire victims,” said Mr Mansoor.

He said that if undue importance was given to the JIT, which did not have teeth legally, it would help the owners, the social audit company, RINA, and the German retail company, KIK. “It will be helpful to them as it will exonerate them criminal negligence which is a major cause of the incident. It will be declared an act of terrorism, and we all know how speedily the cases related to terrorism are solved,” he added.

The political furore that the report created two years after the incident reflected political will of leaders, he said. “I want to ask all those who seek glory from this JIT: where were you during the past three years when the families were running from pillar to post to seek help? And why is everyone interested now?” he said, adding that over the past three years not a single political party, be it the Pakistan Peoples Party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party, Jamaat-i-Islami or Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf, took up the cause of the Baldia fire victims in the provincial and national assemblies.

Referring to an NTUF report for which 101 families of the victims were interviewed, he said: “Safety and security measures at the factory were blamed by majority of them.” Among the complaints, the one about the doors at the factory being locked were oft-repeated, he said. “There are survivors who claimed that the factory doors used to be locked even before the Sept 11 blaze. The owners used to lock the doors to protect the merchandise, according to the survivors we spoke to,” he said.

28 families still await compensation

At present, he said, 28 people were waiting for the compensation money promised to them through the Sindh High Court process initiated by the former chief justice. Seventeen bodies of the victims have not been identified, while six bodies are missing. “The 17 bodies are still marked with numbers at the Mochko graveyard as the DNA report is still not available. The courts have been asking the DNA lab in Islamabad for a follow-up but there hasn’t been an update in that matter as of yet,” he explained.

On another front, the labour activists have held negotiations with the German retail brand KIK on two levels. One is the negotiation over compensation headed by advocate Faisal Siddiqi. Second involves the individual cases soon to be filed against companies KIK, in Germany, and social audit authority RINA, in Italy, by the families of the victims. He said they were looking for an agreement with the KIK to pay three-year salaries to the victims’ families.

Not entirely ruling out the threats the industrialists and specifically the labourers face while working in the five industrial areas of Karachi, the NTUF secretary general said: “We know the extortionists also. It is not one, but many. They come to the fore whenever any worker speaks about creating a trade union. Because soon afterwards, a fight based on religion, ethnicity or politics breaks out that completely divides the labourers. Trade union remains one of the biggest threats to such elements. Only two per cent out of the 60 million workers in Pakistan have the right to form a trade union.”

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2015

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