A garments factory in Karachi. -AFP (file photo)
A garments factory in Karachi. -AFP (file photo)

KARACHI: Senior trade union and labour rights activists have urged the government to ensure strict compliance with occupational health and safety (OHS) regulations at factories and other establishments.

Speaking at a seminar on OHS on Sunday, they said that unsafe workplace conditions affected individuals, the workplace and communities both financially and emotionally.

All Pakistan Trade Union Federation president Habib Uddin Junedi, Port Worker’s Federation president Noor Mohammed, SITE Labour Forum senior vice president Gul Rehman, PIA Union leader Sheikh Majeed, Watan Dost Federation representative Shireen Zadah, National Trade Union Federation representative Riaz Abbasi and KESC People’s Labour Bureau representative Latif Mughal and others spoke at the seminar.

They said that the health and safety situation at many factories and industries was highly unsatisfactory.

“Labour laws are not observed in most garment factories, which among other problems, also contributed to the unchecked deterioration of the OHS facilities,” they said.

One of the speakers said that if factory owners had implemented labour laws and ensured availability of OHS facilities mandatory under the Factories Act 1934, tragedies like the Baldia factory fire could have been avoided.

Fire incidents often occurred at factories due to old and faulty electrical wiring, but factory managements paid no heed to this danger, they said.“Official inspections teams are often involved in shady dealings and mostly do not bother to conduct proper inspections,” some speakers said.

Speaking about working conditions at garments factories, a labour leader referred to a survey and said that workers were not even given appropriate equipment like masks and gloves when at work.

Workers involved with bleaching and dyeing work said that there were no arrangements in place for proper ventilation or drainage at their workplaces.

“There are no separate arrangements for female workers and no separate toilets for them either.”

It was further stated that even if fire extinguishing facilities were in place, they were often outdated and inadequate.

In the event of an emergency, there was often only a single exit and too narrow to accommodate a timely escape of a large number of people, resulting in injuries and deaths of precious human lives, they added.

The executive director of Piler, Karamat Ali, said that there was an urgent need for a worker-led organisation in the garment sector.

“All workers in Sindh need to be united,” he added.

A female garment factory worker, Nazia, said that her husband was killed in the Baldia factory fire, but she had not been able to either receive the body of her husband nor any compensation from the government so far.

The speakers stressed the need for massive awareness campaigns of the OHS laws and training of employers, labour representatives and unions, doctors and other related authorities.

The emissions, polluted water and hazardous gases produced by industrial and trade organisations should be monitored and these organisations should be bound to adhere to national and international environmental standards, they said.

The Hosiery Garment General Workers’ General Union had organised the seminar at a community hall in Baldia Town No 3.

The union’s president, Rafique, vice president Noor Mohammed and general secretary Rehana Yasmeen as well as other office bearers also spoke.