KARACHI: A total of 209 victim families of the Baldia factory fire incident began receiving payments of a long-term compensation provided by German textile buyer KIK Textilien, during a ceremony presided over by Sindh Labour Minister Nasir Hussain Shah.
A large number of victims’ families and labour leaders were in attendance at the ceremony that was held at the Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi Auditorium.
International Labour Organisation (ILO) Country Director Ingrid Christensen, who played a key role in finalising the documents for the distribution of long-term compensation to the affected families, was also present at the ceremony.
Over 250 workers had lost their lives in the deadly garment factory fire incident at the SITE Baldia industrial area on September 11, 2012.
The main buyer of the factory’s garments, KIK Textilien had provided one million US dollars for immediate relief as a result of the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between KIK and Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER). The relief fund was distributed through Sindh High Court’s (SHC) commission headed by Justice (r) Rahmat Hussain Jaffery.
As an obligation under the MoU, KIK later provided 5.15 million US dollars as long-term compensation. The money is being distributed through the Sindh Employees Social Security Institution (SESSI) after the ILO received the money and calculated pension rates.
Ingrid Christensen said that more than two years have passed since all stakeholders started work together to provide long-term compensation to all victim families. “We are happy that funds have been transferred and are being distributed through SESSI,” she said.
She appreciated the role of PILER and other stakeholders and thanked the victim families for their passion and tolerance in such a difficult situation. She said that the ILO, SESSI and labour department had neither charged any fee during the process nor will they do so in the future.
Furthermore, Nasir Shah congratulated the gathering and said that the provincial government will construct a monument in memory of the ones who lost their lives in the factory fire. He informed that the provincial government has already fixed September 11 as Occupational Health and Safety Day.
PILER Executive Director Karamat Ali underlined the need for continuing the struggle for worker rights through international advocacy. He said that the disbursement of Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) pension to the victims’ families should continue and in this regard, talks will be held with the concerned department.
Karamat further said that according to ILO, the living wages in 2012 were at Rs 25,500 and after adding inflation, the amount should be around Rs 31,000. He demanded to fix Rs 30,000 as the minimum wage for unskilled workers.
Senior Advocate Faisal Siddique, who represented PILER in the SHC cases pertaining to the Baldia factory fire, said it is important to recognise that what we have achieved by a joint struggle, particularly of the victims’ families’. He stated that SESSI has to play an important role to play now.
The senior lawyer said that the landmark agreement would not be possible without ILO’s intervention. Additionally, the German government had also played a key role in facilitating and focusing on compensation to the affected families.
He regretted that the actual owners of the factory did not do anything for the families of those who lost their lives. “They were neither arrested nor fined, instead the state and business community including the chamber of commerce facilitated them in running out of the country,” he lamented.
Siddiqi suggested building a Center of Excellence or museum at the site of Ali Enterprises so that people can pay homage to their loved ones.
He also suggested the formation of a committee that can ensure enforcement of health and safety laws. Ali Enterprises Factory Fire Affectees Association Chairperson Saeeda Khatoon thanked everybody who contributed in their struggle. “We can’t bring back to our martyred but can take care of their families,” she said.
Labour Secretary Rasheed Solangi, senior lawyer Rasheed Rizvi, Majid Aziz, Employers Federation Pakistan (EFP) president, consul general of Germany, senior labour leader Habibuddin Junedi, Nasir Mansoor of NTUF and Fasihul Karim Siddique also spoke on the occasion.