KARACHI: A rally to mark the third anniversary of the fire tragedy that claimed the lives of 33 ship-breaking workers in Gadani has called upon the government to announce a national ship-breaking policy and withdraw heavy taxes from this crucial sector of the economy.

The third anniversary of the tragic incident that also left over 50 workers injured was organised in Gadani by the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) and Gadani Ship-breaking Workers Union on Friday. NTUF’s central president Rafiq Baloch led the rally.

Addressing the rally, the speakers said that despite the passage of three years the government of Balochistan had not been able to provide legal protection to the ship-breaking workers.

Participants of the rally urge the govt to implement measures for the health and safety of workers

“As a result ship-breaking workers today are compelled to work in worst conditions as implementation of labour laws and health and safety have become a distant dream. There is still no proper law in place for ship-breaking workers, which can result in another big mishap,” they said.

“Lawmaking is necessary to bring ship-breaking into the industrial sector. A draft bill made with the extensive consultation of labour should be tabled in the assembly at the earliest. Health and safety laws should also be implemented and contract labour system in this sector must be ended,” said Mr Baloch.

NTUF’s president Bashir Ahmed Mehmoodani said that they had been complaining against the non-implementation of health and safety measures at the Gadani ship-breaking yards for a long time now but the government, the yard owners and related government departments had never taken these complaints seriously.

“There was a terrible tragedy on Nov 1, 2016 followed by many more mishaps at the Gadani ship-breaking yards in which more than 33 workers died and 54 others got injured. Sadly such mishaps still continue,” he said.

It was said that the Balochistan labour department, social security institutions, Employees Old-age Benefit Institution, environmental agencies, local police, administrations and owners of ships and labour contractors were the ones really responsible for the problems faced by the workers at Gadani as they were refusing to accept the constitutional and legal rights of ship-breaking workers.

The protesters said that the workers were still being denied their basic rights such as appointment letters, unionising, collective bargaining, social security and pension.

They said that due to the flawed policies of the government and its undemocratic steps the ship-breaking industry had experienced huge losses. They said excessive taxes had made this ship-breaking yard almost empty and abandoned with thousands of workers of ship-breaking and iron re-rolling industries becoming jobless.

At the end of the rally, the participants demanded legislation in the ship-breaking sector and a serious consultation with “real” worker representatives for the implementation of all labour laws and health and safety measures in the ship-breaking yards.

Further demands included an end to the contractual labour system, the ratification of the Hong Kong Convention and other intentional conventions regarding the ship-breaking sector, ambulance, dispensary, canteen and clean drinking water to be made available at every ship-breaking yard, a modern 24-hour hospital to be established at Gadani, a labour colony and educational institutions for ship-breaking workers.

It was also demanded that electricity, gas and road transport be provided to them also. Heavy taxes from this sector should be withdrawn so that the industry can provide job opportunities for the labour.

NTUF members Abdul Samad and Mohammad Saleem also spoke.

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2019