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Shipbreaking workers demand reopening of Gadani shipyard with safety measures

11 November, 2016The Pakistani government has closed the Gadani shipbreaking yard after the blast on 1 November. Unions are demanding that it be reopened, with appropriate safety measures, because so many livelihoods depend on it.

The explosion and fire at the Gadani shipbreaking yard has so far claimed 28 lives, with around 60 workers injured, most in critical condition. Many are feared missing, and 20 families have approached IndustriALL affiliate the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) regarding a missing family member. The death toll may increase as many of those injured are not receiving adequate care.
The immediate response of the government of Pakistan was to close the shipyards. Unions feel that this is a disastrous response, as many thousands of workers are dependent on the yards for their livelihood. The response is seen as cynical in light of the government’s failure to ratify the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships and to take other measures to make shipbreaking safer.

At a press conference on 9 November, the NTUF expressed concern that more than a week after the accident, the government had neither expressed condolences to the victims and their families, nor announced any compensation. The NTUF demanded that the government should pay compensation, improve safety measures and reopen the shipyard to avert an economic crisis.
According to the NTUF, 12,000 workers depend on the Gadani yard:
“These workers earned wages daily and in this scenario they and their families have been forced to sleep on an empty stomach. Those more than two million people indirectly related to the industry have also been badly affected.”
The shipyard is integral to supply chains in the steel industry in Pakistan, with more than more than 100 re-rolling mills, employing 250,000 workers, in Karachi and Hub dependent on iron scrap from Gadani.
The Gadani yard provides 30 per cent of Pakistan’s iron and steel needs, and the closure of the yard will benefit steel importers and undermine local industry as it goes through a crucial development phase.
The NTUF warned that failure to reopen the yards would result in a sit in protest on the main Quetta highway on 14 November.
The union expressed concern at attempts to divert attention from the lack of safety and health measures, and violations of labour law and international conventions, and term the accident an act of sabotage.
The NTUF demanded the establishment of a Shipbreaking Labour Board to formalize workers. Further it called on the government to take workers’ representatives on board to formulate new policies.
The government should take steps to formulate a shipbreaking code to improve health and safety measures at the yards and ensure workers’ right to form unions and act as collective bargaining agents. The NTUF also called for the abolition of the contractual employment system, the registration of workers with social security institutions, and the EOBI state pension and welfare system.
Earlier, representatives of the NTUF met with the federal minister of ports and shipping and conveyed their concerns and demands.
Representatives of IndustriALL’s shipbuilding and shipbreaking action group met in Australia last week, and sent a message of support and solidarity to the workers of Gadani. The group is campaigning for the ratification of the Hong Kong Convention.
IndustriALL regional secretary, Apoorva Kaiwar, said:
“Closing the Gadani shipyard is a cynical attempt to divert attention away the failure to make shipbreaking safer, and it amounts to the collective punishment of workers.
The yards must reopen, and the government must work with unions to change the industry.”

The shipbuilding and shipbreaking action group, as reported by the Australian media