KARACHI, Jan 5: A major European buyer of textile products of the ill-fated Ali Enterprises, a factory in Baldia Town that was burnt down in an inferno a few months ago, has agreed to pay up to a total of $1 million as a compensation to the victims of the worst industrial disaster in the country, said labour leaders on Saturday.

Speaking at a press conference organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) at the Karachi Press Club, they said various labour organisations working with the victims would now approach the Sindh High Court to urge it to form a commission, comprising representatives of the workers and the government, to identify the victims and their legal heirs who could be paid compensation.

Piler chief Karamat Ali said Pakistani workers organisations working in association with their European counterparts identified the German brand/buyer, KiK Textilien, a major buyer of the Ali Enterprises’ products, and after persuasion by the workers’ bodies had agreed to pay the amount to the victims and the families affected by the inferno which left about 300 workers burnt to death and several others injured.

He said that according to an agreement between Piler and KiK, first those victims’ families would be focused who had not received any compensation from the government as the bodies of many workers at the Ali Enterprises were burnt beyond recognition. Such victims were only a few, but their families continued to struggle through the state’s bureaucratic process to receive their dues.

He said Piler would file a petition with the Sindh High Court urging it to constitute an independent commission to oversee the compensation process and determine all necessary details for the purpose. In case the court did not establish such a commission, Piler would go for a committee comprising prominent citizens associated with social causes and enjoying good reputation. He said KiK had also agreed to work for better labour rights in Pakistan.

He said the government had agreed to provide pensions to the affected families of all the deceased workers of Ali Enterprises, but the Employees’ Old-Age Benefits Institution had issued passbooks to many affected families for payment of pensions for the next five years, which was unfair and should be looked into. Similarly, he said, the Sindh Employees Social Security Institution had also issued pension letters to the families under which only Rs750 per month would be provided, which was a meagre amount.

He said the labour movements of the country were disturbed by the statement of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf asking the Sindh government to review the cases against the owners of the factory. He said the PM should have directed the government to expedite the identification process of 28 unidentified bodies so that the victims and their heirs got compensated quickly.

He said the families had given blood for tests thrice but still the DNA test results had not been provided, which had increased the agony of the affected families.

Other labour leaders and workers rights activists present at the press conference included Habibuddin Junaidi of the All Pakistan Trade Union Organsations, Nasir Mansoor of the National Trade Union Federation, Rehana Yasmeen of the Garment Hosiery Union and Noor Mohammad of the Port Workers Federation.