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Inferno at factories

September 14, 2012

A FIRE in a Lahore shoe factory killed 30 people while the toll in the Karachi garments’ factory inferno has exceeded 300. Before the burial of the victims, functionaries of both the Punjab and Sindh governments announced Rs500,000 and Rs300,000 financial assistance for the heirs and Rs50,000 to Rs75,000 for the injured.

Another over-smart government functionary, Rehman Malik, no doubt in an attempt to score points, hinted at the involvement of foreign elements while directing a probe to unearth the conspiracy behind the two incidents.

We are living in the 21st century but have inhuman working conditions in the country’s factories. Child labour is still prevalent and labourers continue to perform the most hazardous or even fatal tasks without there being any signs that the future could bring improvements. Raids by inspectors of toothless government departments at these factories — if at all conducted — are not aimed at improving the situation but to mint money…. Ninety-nine out of 100 factories have no concept of even emergency exit points and lack fire-fighting equipment.

Workers smoke in factories near inflammable materials…. Unsafe working conditions will remain the norm even after the deaths of so many people in fire incidents that are followed by an uproar for a couple of days. Every now and then, workers die of suffocation in manholes and no concrete steps are taken to prevent such an eventuality in the future.

It is the joint responsibility of both the people and the government to ensure safe working conditions in factories. Since the majority of the people are illiterate and lack knowledge about the importance of safety at the workplace, it becomes the sole responsibility of the government. But our government functionaries are busy in their games of snakes and ladders; the parliamentarians are interested in getting development funds and have no interest in legislation. Ironically, laws are not made for implementation in Pakistan.—(Sept 13)

Selected and translated by Zaheer Mahmood Siddiqui.