Outrage in Pakistan over factory fire deaths

September 13th, 2012 - 12:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Sep 13 (IANS) Describing industrial buildings as “death traps” and “concentration camps”, Pakistani dailies Thursday sought regular inspections of factories as well as rigorous application of the law following the deaths of over 300 workers at two factories in the country.

Dawn said the horrific tragedy had taken the entire country in an asphyxiating grip of grief mixed with rage, while the News International noted that industrial accidents were becoming increasingly common across the country.

As many as 289 people were killed in the Karachi blaze while 25 people died in the Lahore inferno.

“Clearly the country’s worst industrial disaster, the factory blaze in Karachi will be seared in memory as the Pakistani worker’s 9/11. Like the factory fire that struck Lahore on the same day killing over 20 people, it had long been building up in the casinos of government officials who make their fortune gambling on the lives of the hapless millions,” said an editorial in the Dawn.

“The tragedy that began to unfold Tuesday has taken the entire country in an asphyxiating grip of grief mixed with rage,” it added.

It said that it was imperative for all factories in the country to undergo regular inspections and a thorough cleanup.

“Anything short of that will be an insult to the hundreds who over the years have paid with their lives for a system that is rotten to the core. Changing the system will be a challenge to stranded workers looking for an exit from the virtual hell that still must erupt into an inferno to get noticed - a challenge which others in civil society must help the workers take on,” it said.

Calling factories in Pakistan as “kingdoms unto themselves”, the daily said: “They are concentration camps where workers are denied their basic rights enshrined in the constitution, in the country’s labour laws and in international conventions.”

“Even a proper appointment letter is more often than not a favour, and not a rule, and those who are not employed as per the regulations have no claim to privileges, not even compensation in accident cases.”

The News International bluntly said that appalling as the toll is, “we should not be surprised that these incidents happened”.

“Industrial accidents such as these are becoming increasingly common across the country; a collapsing building here or a fire there, a few dead and injured and a footnote in the news,” it said.

“Building regulations are openly flouted, and building and factory inspectors handsomely bribed to look the other way. Many industrial buildings are designed as deathtraps from the outset - the building in Karachi certainly was.”

It went on to ask: “How many of the newly-arising multi-storey housing blocks have fire escapes or sprinkler systems? How many of the large modern private schools have fire drills and how many parents question this as they hand over fat fees?”

“…Life is cheap, and the lamentable standard of health and safety at work practices is reflective of this,” it said.

“…the only way forward is enforcement. There must be a rigorous application of the law via a system of inspections proofed against corruption and political interference. Otherwise nothing is going to change as a result of either incident, and in another week or another month the media will be reporting another tragedy,” it added.

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