LAHORE: Blatant violations of building and labour laws had allegedly been going on in the factory that collapsed at Sundar on Wednesday, which were ‘overlooked’ by both the Punjab Industrial Estate Development and Management Company (PIEDMC) and the Sundar Industrial Estate (SIE) management.
As the case unfolded it also emerged that some labourers of the factory had held a protest three days before the tragic collapse, complaining of cracks in its structure they noticed following the October 26 earthquake.
The performance of the city district government and the Punjab labour department is also being questioned as field officials supposed to conduct regular inspections of the industrial units for working conditions of labourers, structural strength and child labour violations were absent from their duty.
No reassessment of structure after earthquake
Even worse, the SIE management, the CDG and labour department don’t have backing of structural by-laws to assess industrial units for any damages following an earthquake and seal the affected ones for necessary repairs.
“We have no such provision in our laws to have structural analysis of industrial premises after any calamity and seal the affected ones,” claimed Naveed Mushtaq, the Chief Executive officer of PIEDMC. “However, faced with such a situation for the first time, we have now decided to conduct a survey of all industrial units and asses if any structural damages have occurred after any calamity.”
Mr Mushtaq said the factory was established in 2012 and after the recent earthquake it developed cracks but neither the factory owner nor any labourer complained about it to the SIE management.
He, however, said that some labourers had reportedly complained to the factory management about the building’s condition and had moved to neighboring factories for work.
Adding the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back, on the day the factory collapsed, the owner, identified as Rana Ashraf, ordered making functional two new machines on the ground floor despite reservations expressed by some staff members and labourers. According to Mr Mushtaq, the staff had warned the owner that the machines’ vibration was intense and the building structure might not sustain it. But, these apprehensions were reportedly ignored, he added. The labourers had also lodged their protest three days before that when the machines were put on a test run.
The CEO said when the machines were switched on, besides the already damaged central column of the building, other parts of the multi-storey structure also collapsed.
He said Niaz, the former general manager of the Rajput Polythene Bags Industries left his job a month ago after developing differences with Rana Ashraf over construction of fourth floor for accommodation of labourers.
Both the construction of of an additional floor as well as installation of new machines (after the earthquake damage) goes against the by-laws.
Mr Mushtaq said the three-storey building was approved as per building control division of the PIEDMC and labour department which usually allowed up to six-storey structures with 70-feet height limit.
Talking to Dawn at the site of the incident, Mr Niaz confirmed he had resigned from his job after strongly opposing construction of an additional floor. After hearing about the incident, he said he rushed to the spot to inform rescuers about some exit points in the building to facilitate their work.
“The labour inspector used to visit the factory off and on,” reveals Mr Niaz, adding, “But he would leave without any proper inspection.”
Meanwhile, a senior official of labour dsepartment, who wished anonymity, told Dawn that concerned labour officer Rana Jahangir, who was posted three months ago, had been suspended from service for showing negligence.
He said the unit was given structural stability certificate as per building code, adding the recovery of some children and teenagers from the debris suggested either they were working illegally or were staying on the fourth floor.
The official said the department had no evidence that underage workers were employed at the factory.
He said the building was apparently not defective but it must have got weakened owing to illegal structures, overloading and quake effects.
Muttahida Labour Front secretary general Hanif Ramay lambasted the PIEDMC, SIE and labour department for failing to detect the construction of an additional floor despite cracks in the central column of the building.
He alleged use of child labour in the factory, absence of regular inspection mechanism and illegal accommodation on fourth floor.
Ramay further said only 40 labourers were found registered with the Social Security Institution and the EOBI out of total 500, which could become a legal hitch for the families of the deceased and the injured in claiming compensation.
National Trade Union Federation Pakistan chairman Yousaf Baloch in a statement condemned the “negligence” shown by the factory owner and the labour department and demanded action against those responsible for the tragic incident.
Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2015