KARACHI: Leaders of a union campaigning for the rights of workers on Thursday said workers at factories and other workplaces suffered serious accidents routinely in which they got wounded and often lost their lives.

“All this is happening because of non-implementation of the labour laws and deliberate negligence of health and safety standards,” said Rafiq Baloch, president of the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), at a press conference at the union’s office.

He said despite witnessing horrible industrial disasters, such as the fires in Ali Enterprises factory and Gadani oil tanker, neither employers nor the government had taken sufficient measures to ensure safety of workers.

“The deteriorating situation and the criminal silence imply that the stakeholders have not put the safety of workers on their priorities,” he said.

Nasir Mansoor, deputy secretary general of the NTUF, said the use of asbestos in industries was another grave issue which had put the lives of workers at perpetual risk.

Mined in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said Mr Mansoor, that silicated fibrous substance was 400 times thinner than a human hair but it was highly dangerous.

“It is used across the country in building construction, pipes, boilers, fireproof products, textile, cement, automobiles and shipbuilding. It is also found in ships that are dismantled in Gadani.”

Bashir Mehmoodani, the president of Gadani Ship Breaking Workers Union, said, “Its invisible particles are inhaled and they cause lung diseases and cancers. They also damage the food pipe in the body.”

The speakers referred to the World Health Organisation as documenting that 125 million people had been affected by asbestos and annually 90,000 people died because of it.

They said the International Labour Organisation and others in 2006 appealed to their member countries to ban the use of that material. The United States, Saudi Arabia and 60 other countries had already banned asbestos completely or partially.

But, they said, it was still mined and used in Pakistan.

“The profiteers for their monetary gains have been putting human lives at risk despite the fact that there is a cheap alternative material available,” said Gul Rehman, NTUF’s Sindh president.

Referring to some unofficial reports, the speakers said 601 people had died in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa between 1995 and 2003 because of the use of asbestos.

“There is no health and safety law in the country that prohibits its use and there is no mechanism to compensate the deaths due to it,” said Mr Baloch.

The speakers demanded an immediate ban on the mining and use of asbestos and urged the authorities that the ILO-defined mechanism should be employed to destroy the available material and control its effects where it had been used.

They said the Supreme Court had already ordered the authorities to prepare a report encompassing all the facts and details vis-à-vis asbestos but unfortunately it was not yet completed.

They demanded of the relevant authorities that the report should be prepared and presented in parliament for legislation so that a clear policy regarding the issue could emerge.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2018