Seminar: Victims of Baldia factory fire demand compensation

KARACHI: On the occasion of first anniversary of the worst ever factory fire incident at Baldia SITE area in Karachi the members of victims’ families, trade unions and civil society activists here on Saturday reminded the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to fulfil his commitment of provision of the compensation to the victims’ families, which he had made as PML chief at the time of visit to the factory site last year.

They were speaking at a seminar in connection with first anniversary of the industrial fire incident at Ali Enterprises in Baldia Town on September 11, 2012, jointly organised by Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research PILER and trade unions committee at PILER Centre. During his visit to Karachi on September 14, 2012 the PMLN chief Nawaz Sharif had announced Rs 300,000 donation for each victim’s family but since then no money is provided.

Senior lawyer Faisal Siddiqi, veteran trade union leader Noor Mohammad, Joint Director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research PILER Zulfiqar Shah, a representative of Indus Valley of School of Art Ammad Tahir, representatives of victims’ families Nazia and Israr spoke on the occasion. A catalogue of the products displayed at the exhibition held at Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi was also launched on the occasion. The members of families and civil society also complained about non-payment of the death grants, which need to be paid by Workers Welfare Fund WWF of the federal government to each victim’s families.

The Employees Oldage Benefit Institution EOBI which has to provide pension to all workers, is providing pensions to the victims’ families for only five years’ period, whereas pensions should be for the life time. Many families complained about non-provision of the EOBI pension to them. Similarly, the meagre amount by Social Security Institution of Sindh Government is also not available for all families.

The SITE Association of Industry and Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association PRGMEA had promised to provide jobs to jobless workers and victims heirs, but they did not fulfil their commitment.

Faisal Siddiqi, lawyer, who has filed petitions in Sindh High Court SHC said according to the official and confirmed reports 255 workers had died and 55 were injured due to the fire in Ali Enterprises, which indicates that it was the largest industrial fire incident in the world.

Besides the main petition for the compensation to the victims and other matters, the lawyer Faisal Siddiqi said another petition has been filed against the controversial statement by then Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf in which he had asked the police to withdraw the murder charges against owners of the factory. The SHC has allowed that petition for hearing and notices have been issued to the Prime Minister Secretariat. Due to that petition, the murder charges have not been withdrawn so far, he added.

Besides that Siddiqi said he with the support of the international lawyers is planning to file a petition against Italian certification company RINA, which had issued a certificate to Ali Enterprises on 21st August for compensation. “We have pleaded to the court to ask the government to acquire the land of the factory and establish a centre and a monument.”

Talking about compensation procedure, Siddiqi said the government had claimed that it has paid Rs 85 million as compensation to all families. “We doubted that many families have not been paid. We demanded the SHC Commission for distribution of compensation should conduct inquiry and confirm.

The Commission, headed by Supreme Court’s retired judge Justice R Rahmat Hussain Jafery worked vigorously and through a procedure has provided compensation money to all families of the deceased workers and injured workers of Ali Enterprises. Now the Commission would be requested to look into the distribution of compensation by the government whether the families have received the amount properly or not.

Siddiqi assured the workers families that their other problems like pension payment for 5 years and education of their children would be taken up with the government. The European buyer of Ali Enterprises products, KIK has agreed for long-term support to the families. PILER has recently established Pakistan Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights and
this centre would receive complaints of families in this regard. A hotline would soon be established, he added.

A senior trade union leader Noor Mohamed said civil society people from every section of the society had raised their voices for the justice to the victims of the factory fire. During the entire last year the civil society and trade unions jointly worked in a centralised manner for provision of compensation to the families. The issue was been raised internationally and international organisations have joined hands in the struggle of their Pakistani counterpart.

Zulfiqar Shah, Joint Director of PILER appreciated the efforts of trade unions’ committee and Faisal Siddiqi lawyer for provision of compensation to victims’ families. The trade unions and civil society held 21 meetings during one year and worked together for provision of justice. The Baldia factory fire case is of international importance and it has been raised at international fora.

A Europe based rights network Clean Clothes Campaign CCC has raised the issue at international level and a solidarity has been established across the globe. Due to joint efforts the German company KIK has provided US $ 1 million as compensation to the workers and the amount has been distributed through a SHC commission.

The CCC and international lawyers’ group would soon file a case in Italy against and international inspection company, RINA. CCC and a network called Friends of PILER have written a letter to the international inspection company Social Accountability International SAI that they were also equally responsible of the incident. We would also include SAI in the case for provision of compensation to the victims. The main purpose of these cases is to bring all the responsible to books and rehabilitation of the victim families on longer terms.

On the occasion Ms. Farhat Fatima of PILER read out a message from Clean Clothes Campaign on the first anniversary of Baldia Factory fire incident. Similarly, she also read out the letter to Prime Minister of Pakistan by Friends of PILER seeking his intervention in the case.

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