Pakistan factory fires – take action now, before it happens here
“People should listen to trade unions who have been warning about the risk of disasters like this,” said Peter McAllister of the Ethical Trading Initiative on Radio 5 last Wednesday. He was talking about devastating factory fires on 11 September 2012 at a garment factory in Karachi and a shoe factory in Lahore, Pakistan which killed over 300 workers. Health and safety experts have pointed out time and time again that workers and their unions are the best early warning systems, and yet the Government chose the same week to relax UK health and safety laws on so-called low risk premises.
Various reports indicate that workers could not escape the fires because the factory buildings lacked basic fire safety standards and emergency exits, or that the exits were blocked (sadly, a familiar description from factory fires in Southern and South East Asia for decades.) Global textile and footwear union federation IndustriALL has launched a LabourStart petition calling on the Government of Pakistan to investigate and punish those responsible and compensate the workers who have died or been injured. Please take the action. And please be vigilant about changes to UK health and safety arrangements that could be the slippery slope to similar disasters happening here.
The ILO has sent a delegation to Pakistan to help address the issues raised. The ILO is calling for the restoration of labour inspections in all factories and will help build the capacity of Sindh Labour Department in order to improve inspections. And the TUC sent a letter of solidarity and condolences to the Pakistan Workers Federation, our sister organisation in the country.