KARACHI, April 13: A critically slow pace of work at the Sindh labour department can be imagined from the fact that its inspectors and field officers could register, or detect, only 82 factories under The Factory Act, 1934 in the first two months of this year.The latest data acquired from the labour directorate suggests that 82 factories are registered and 99 others could be knocked at or inspected for “promotion and maintenance of the highest degree of physical, mental and social well being of people engaged in work or employment there”.

The data revealed something provoking for people at the helm of affairs and the caretaker government as well. The designated inspectors and other authorised officers were not allowed to enter 43 of the 99 factories to carry out the job enshrined in chapter 3 (health and safety) of the factory act, said an official, terming the denial obstructions in the working of the labour directorate.

Hearing a petition seeking a judicial inquiry into the Baldia Town factory fire of September, 2012, which claimed lives of 259 workers, the Sindh High Court in November had ordered the Sindh government to register all the unregistered industrial units and also report on fire and safety measures in place at the existing factories, according to a source in the provincial labour department.

It is learnt that during a special campaign launched before the court order, the Sindh labour department had registered 623 factories in September to December, 2012, taking the tally of factories registered across the province to 8,125 since the independence of the country.

Referring to the situation of registration, unearthing of illegally operating factories or detection of any short-comings in the operation of the registered ones, an insider said that it was a result of the lukewarm support from factory owners or managers and half-hearted efforts made by the government and its designated bureaucracy and field staff.

Under Section 9 of Rule 3 of the Factories Act, 1934, an occupier of a factory is required to send a written notice to the government inspector concerned before work is begun in his factory, informing him or her of the name of the factory and its situation, communication address, the nature of the manufacturing process to be carried out, the nature and amount of the power to be used, the name of the manager of the factory and other particulars as may be prescribed for the purpose of the act.

Manufacturing process means any process: i) for making, altering, repairing, ornamenting, finishing or packaging, or otherwise treating and article or substance with a view to its use, sale, transport, delivery or disposal, or ii) for pumping oil, water or sewage, or iii) for generating, transforming or transmitting power.

According to legal the definition, a factory “means any premises, including the precincts thereof, whereon 10 or more workers are working, or were working on any day of the preceding 12 months, and in any part of which manufacturing process is being carried on or is ordinarily carried on with or without the aid of power, but does not include a mine, subject to the operation of the Mine Act, 1923”.

The act also empowered a designated government inspector to enter with such assistant (if any), being persons in the service of the state or of any municipal or other public authority, as he thinks fit, any place which is or which he has reasons to believe to be, used as factory or capable of being declared to be a factory under the provisions of section 5 (power to apply provisions applicable to factories to certain other places).

Under section 11 (power of inspector), the inspector may make such examination of the premises and plant and of any prescribed registers, and take on the spot or otherwise such evidence of persons as he may deem necessary for carrying out the purposes of the factory act; may exercise such other powers as may be necessary for carrying the purposes of the act, provided that no one shall be required under the section to answer any question or give any evidence tending to criminate himself.

In the meantime, it was learnt that the provincial labour directorate had launched a special campaign in September last year for registration and inspection, setting targets for each division. The purpose was to have a concrete data of industrial units and also ensure implementation of labour laws, particularly from safety of employees’ point of view, said the source.

However, contrary to the expectations and estimates, the undermined or purposefully forgotten system of factory regulation through the inspectors once again failed to click due to off-the-record official restrictions that started coming down after a cabinet decision taken in 2001.

A source privy to the so-called inspections said that the element of surprise was almost nil, while field staff had also been told to take their superior into confidence before taking action against defaulting factories. Moreover, the indifferent attitude of the authorities concerned could be gauged from the fact that about 50 per cent of the field officers’ posts have been lying vacant for long, the source said.

Trade unionists generally claimed that the implementation of occupational health and safety laws in the case of factory workers had almost been negligible. The labour department’s inspectors are also accused of being inactive “in the interest of workers and protection of their rights”.

At a recent press conference, labour leader Rafiq Baloch said that the labour inspectors largely worked under the influence of their bosses in the bureaucracy or political quarters and groups of elite who sought protection of the factory owners’ interests, and rarely inspected the industries from workers point of views.

On the other hand, labour inspectors say that an effective system of inspection can be ensured only after the implementation of the basic laws in a transparent manner, otherwise elimination of the workplace chaos and restoration of the confidence of the workers in general will remain a far cry.

The present strength of the inspectors and other field officers is insufficient even to have a single regulatory inspection of all the registered factories in Sindh in a whole year. With the changes in the overall development pattern and keeping in view the trend of short-cuts in every walk of life, it has become difficult to enforce even the key or basic provisions of the factory act, particularly in the absence of a security system and transport needed for inspection, political will, periodic training and refreshers for inspectors, it is largely felt.

Talking to Dawn on behalf of the chief inspector and head of the provincial labour directorate, Abdul Aziz Memon, an assistant director, said the situation pertaining to inspection could not improve significantly until the employers realised their social responsibility.

He said the enforcement of labour laws or registration and regulation of factories was slow for various reasons, including a harsh attitude of employers and absence of capacity building steps. While the labour department is already trying to expedite the process of inspection, an adequate government funding, provision of security to inspectors, particularly in Karachi, will certainly help address factory related issues and meeting the targets such as elimination of child labour, health and safety, welfare of workers, restrictions on working hours of adults, weekly and compensatory holidays, payment of wages and prosecution of quarters contravening the factory act, Mr Memon added.