KARACHI, Dec 6: An announcement about various exit points in a local hotel in case of a fire or any an emergency set the tone for the main theme of a workshop that was being held at the hotel on the topic of “promoting workplace safety and health in Sindh” on Thursday. Speaking at the workshop that included three parallel technical consultation sessions on the themes of “occupational safety and health”, “labour inspection” and “work injury insurance schemes”, Sindh labour department secretary Arif Elahi said: “Instead of blaming employers, inspectors, emergency services, etc, we thought of an action plan of first training ourselves to prevent tragedies such as the Baldia Town factory fire.”

He added: “The business people must understand that no one is out to harass them in the name of ‘inspection’. And we should also know what is keeping employers from taking certain necessary measures. Also the employees should not think that no one cares about them. The main objective is to create awareness of the problems of all the three stakeholders and understand them. So please let us just adopt an action plan as the lives of workers are also precious.”

Acting president of the employers’ federation of Pakistan (EFP) Zaki Ahmad also stressed the need for a renewed fire safety plan after two factory fire tragedies in Karachi and Lahore on September 11.

“We have started a training programme for betterment of all stakeholders,” he added.

Pakistan Workers Federation (PWF) general secretary Zahoor Awan said that the Ali Enterprises tragedy in Baldia Town in which 259 workers lost their lives, was the second largest industrial disasters since the last century, the other one being the Bhopal factory gas leak disaster.

“Accidents can happen even after following basic safety rules, but not at this big scale,” he said.

“Social welfare legislations like social safety nets are important mechanisms. There should also be a shadow inspection to keep a close check on these matters. The International Labour Organisation’s [ILO] convention number 187 on occupational safety and health should be implemented here as improving working conditions of employees will also result in giving them a peace of mind while enhancing productivity and profitability,” he said.

ILO country director Francesco d’Ovidio said that there was a general perception among people that labour rights were all about wages. “But they are actually about quality of life by improving working conditions and creating a culture of health and safety. Pakistan is proud of its productivity and growth, but this has to go hand in hand with the safety of workers,” he added.

“Weak labour laws have been the cause of little social protection for workers. Pakistan needs to replicate international standards. A tripartite consultation with support from ILO should see an immediate relief to victims’ families by interviewing families to know their needs, provide them training, travel allowances and scholarships, and getting recommendations from participants about what more can be done for them,” he said.

“Occupation safety, labour inspection and insurance schemes must be introduced,” he said. Meanwhile, the senior specialist on occupational safety and health (OSH), ILO regional office for Asia and Pacific (ROAP), Ingrid Christensen, said: “Decent work is a safe work. Good working conditions contribute to poverty alleviation.”

She said: “We need a national system, institutional framework to ensure safety at workplace. There should also be a competent authority in place for inspection along with a management system, fire safety drills, plans, etc. And we are here as a start of this process.”

The labour department of the government of Sindh will launch an ‘action plan’ by the end of January 2013, it was stated.

The workshop was jointly organised by the Sindh labour department, the ILO, the EFP and the PWF.

More than 250 representatives of the government, employers, workers, civil society, academic, international buyers, and social auditing agencies participated in the day-long technical deliberations that followed the inaugural session.