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43 workers killed in Delhi factory fire

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11 December, 2019The deadly factory fire accident in Delhi on 8 December exposes the vulnerability of India’s informal workforce as well as the government’s passive attitude towards workers’ safety.

‘I am going to die…there is no escape’ was the desperate message from a victim soon after the fire broke out at around 4.30 am on 8 December in the factory located in a residential area of Delhi.

43 people died in the fire, 39 from asphyxiation. Most of the victims are young migrant workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the poorest provincial states in India.

The fire spread quickly due to the large amount of flammable materials used to make toys, jackets, school bags and paper. Victims could not escape from the four-story building as materials blocked the exits.

Access to the building was narrow; only one entrance and congested lanes meant that the fire engines could not reach the site directly. Initial reports suggest that fire fighters had to break open the exit, as it was locked from inside.

The illegal factory did not have due permission from the fire safety department. The building did not have enough ventilation or a fire safety plan. At the time of the accident more than a hundred workers were sleeping inside the building where they worked and lived.

Valter Sanches, IndustriALL general secretary, says:

“IndustriALL stands in solidarity with the victims’ families who lost their loved ones. We cannot accept that avoidable accidents keep happening, not only in Delhi but across the country.

“Our experiences through the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety reinforce the fact that the involvement of unions is indispensable to improve safety at the workplace. The Indian government and employers should work with unions to improve the occupational safety and health situation in the country.”

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) rebuked the authorities for not improving the safety situation in Delhi even after similar accidents earlier this year. The NHRC demanded an action report from the Delhi provincial government, Delhi Commissioner of Police and Delhi municipal corporation within six weeks.

Dr. G Sanjeeva Reddy, INTUC president and member of IndustriALL’s executive committee says:

“We strongly condemn the government’s negligence for allowing this illegal and dangerous activity, causing loss of precious lives. Occupational health and safety must be given due priority, with workers’ representatives involved in the decision-making process.”

The Delhi government has announced an INR 1’000,000 (US$14,100) compensation for each of the victims’ relatives, and the central government has announced an INR 200,000 (US$2,820) compensation.

The owner of the building and managers have been arrested, and a case of causing death by negligence has been filed.