The Gadani tragedy and workers’ rights

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The high number of casualties from the explosions in Gadani ship breaking yard is a tragedy that shows the little value that life of workers is given in this country. This is not to criticise the rescue operations underway as there have been obvious difficulties in putting out the fires, but rather the lack of regard given to safety procedures in the first place. Workers in Pakistan are made to work in difficult and dangerous conditions, with their meagre wages commensurate with the negligible measures in place to keep them safe. In factories, they are often so densely packed together that in case of any emergency their evacuation risks turning into a stampede. Moreover, there are often no evacuation plans or adequate exit routes. In case of fires, there are no measures to stop the fire from spreading and to timely extinguish it. No fire alarms and no fire extinguishers are in place, much less automatic sprinklers found in well-designed buildings. When it comes to construction workers, it is a rare sight for them to be wearing protective helmets or safety harnesses. Moreover, the makeshift homes made for their accommodation near the construction site are devoid of proper basic hygienic facilities. And while the fruits of their labour is appropriated by the economic elite to enable their development projects and their ostentatious lifestyles, labourers are left to continue working for a pittance barely enough to support their existence.
This criminal apathy towards the lives of workers is present both in factory owners and state officials. In case of the Gadani explosions, reportedly, the owner of the yard in which the ship that caught fire was brought was nowhere to be found. This is symptomatic of the systematic oppression of workers in Pakistani society. Of course, the benevolence of capitalists cannot be relied upon to protect workers right; they would use each and every opportunity to extract the maximum surplus from labourers while keeping them weak. And the system that is in place in Pakistan relies on exactly that.