31 August, 2021On 27 August, 17 workers in Mehran Town, Pakistan, were killed as a fire swept through an illegal factory producing bags. Exits and windows were barred, meaning the workers had no way out. The fire is a stark reminder that without implementation, protective laws are useless.
The only entrance and exit to BM Industry’s illegal factory was locked, as was the a door to the roof which could have been used as an escape route, and iron bars covered the windows. Attempts to fight the fire only started two hours after it had broken out.
Three brothers were among the 17 workers who died in the fire: 37-year-old Irfan, Farman, 33 and Farhan, 30. Two more brothers from the same family narrowly escaped death.
Afzal, one of the surviving brothers, says:
“I escaped the fire only because I had gone downstairs to fetch our tea order when I heard screaming for help from upstairs. I dropped everything to rush back upstairs, but I couldn’t go. There was a fire which had spread within seconds. It had engulfed the stairs.”
Afzal says that the Chief minister’s adviser and Karachi administrator barrister Murtaza Wahab has promised the families of the deceased Rs1 million (US$6,000) as compensation, along with food rations and free education for their orphaned children.
Nasir Mansoor, general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation Pakistan, says that the fire reminds him of the Baldia factory fire in 2012, where 259 workers died.
“If lessons had been learned from the fire in 2012, maybe this incident would never have happened. The authorities handled the Baldia factory case politically and deliberately overlooked the corruption and incompetence of government departments.
“We demand compensation from the owners, as well as the government. There must also be a judicial inquiry into the cause of the fire.”
According to Mansoor, Pakistan is signatory to 32 global conventions on decent work and occupational health and safety. But implementation is zero, due to corruption among the government and employers.
“This is another horrific example of workers paying the ultimate price and this deadly pursuit of profit must end. Immediate steps to improve workers’ health and safety in Pakistan must be taken in consultation with the unions,”
says Valter Sanches, IndustriALL general secretary.