KARACHI - A German buyer of the textile products has agreed to pay compensation to the victims of the Ali Enterprises fire tragedy as well as to work for structural changes to improve the system of labour protection in Pakistan.

Being the major buyer of the Ali Enterprises’ producTS, the German brand/buyer KiK Textilien has been persuaded by Pakistani trade union activists and international labour solidarity organisations including Clean Clothes Campaign to pay compensation to the affected families.

This was stated by Executive Director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research Karamat Ali and other trade union leaders and labour rights activists at a press conference here on Saturday. Those who were also present on the occasion included Nasir Mansoor of National Trade Union Federation; Habibuddin Junaidi, Noor Muhammad and Rehana Yasmeen.

Karamat Ali said Pakistan’s labour rights groups, including Piler have been working with international labour rights groups after the tragic factory fire in Karachi on September 11, 2012 that killed around 300 workers and injured several others. This is with the purpose to extend the ambit of responsibility of assistance to employers, buyers and the state. These three agents are not only key beneficiaries of the produce of Pakistan’s competitive labour force, they also determine the terms and conditions of work that, as it is on ground, remains unfavourable for workers.

According to the agreement between Piler and the KiK, the disbursement may take place in two phases. In the first phase, those victims’ families will be focused who have not received any compensation from the government as the bodies of the workers at the Ali Enterprises are decomposed beyond the point of identification. Such victims are few in numbers but their families continue to struggle through the state’s bureaucratic process to receive their dues as families of the deceased. According to the agreement, these families would be compensated upto the level of assistance extended by the government departments and other sources so far.

Karamat Ali said the KiK had also expressed willingness to compensate workers who faced severe injuries in the fire leading to disability and loss of future employment. The remaining workers will be assisted in the next step after a compensation amount is agreed upon through a consensus between all stakeholders including employers and other buyers, he added. He said the KiK would be extending US$1 million for the compensation of the victims’ families in the first phase while those in the second phase will be assisted after negotiation between all the stakeholders.

In order to facilitate the compensation process, the Piler will file a petition with the Sindh High Court that is also hearing a petition concerning the factory fire. The planned petition will seek the court to constitute an independent commission to oversee the compensation process and determine all necessary details for the purpose. In case the court does not establish such a commission, the Piler will work towards forming a committee comprising prominent citizens who have been associated with social causes and enjoy clean reputation. KiK has also agreed to work for better labour rights in Pakistan.

Karamat Ali deplored that the govt had agreed to provide pensions to the affected families of all the deceased workers of Ali Enterprises, but the Employees Old age Benefit Institutions (EOBI) has issued passbooks to many affected families for payment of pensions for the next five years, which is unfair and should be looked into. Similarly, he said Sindh Employees Social Security Institution (SESSI) has also issued pension letters to the families under which only Rs. 750 per month would be provided, which is a meager amount.Ali said the labour movements of the country are also disturbed by the statement of Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf asking the Sindh government to review the cases against owners of the factory.  Without being fully briefed about the facts of the case and as to why the prosecution (Sindh Govt.) decided to legally charge the owners and other accused persons with murder (Section 302, Pakistan Penal Code, 1860), how could the Prime Minister suggest that Section 302, PPC, 1860, may not be applicable.

It is the matter of the fact that the PM is not aware of the fact that there has been constant pressure on the investigation team as well as the prosecution to drop Section 302, PPC, against the owners but they consciously decided to apply this Section to this case. “We many ask the Prime Minister why he didn’t find time to demand quick justice for the Baldia victims, or give directions to expedite identification of the 28 dead unidentified bodies, or expeditious payment of compensation to the victims?” he asked.

He said the families had given blood tests three times but still the DNA tests were still not provided, which had increased the mental agony of the affected families.