KARACHI - The ship-breaking industry in Gadani, Balochitan has been declining due to labour rights exploitation by the employers, non-implementation on the internationally accepted labour standards and the criminal negligence of the government and its authorities, Nasir Mansoor, deputy general secretary National Trade Union Federation, said on Sunday.

He said, “Thousands of workers, directly associated with the industry, have been working in inhumane conditions - without any safety - and as a result, they are receiving injuries for life and deaths too in accidents at workplace every other day. The overall situation implies that the government has given the employers and the contractors’ licence to kill the workers because, despite so many casualties, none of them has been prosecuted and they continue to run their illegal and criminal operations scot-free.”

He was speaking at a seminar, titled Issues and Way Forward for Ship breaking Industry and ILO Guidelines & Hong Kong Convention, organised by the National Trade Union Federation at PMA House in Karachi. NTUF president Rafiq Baloch presided over the seminar as workers belonging to the ship-breaking and re-rolling industries attended it.

He said that the redressal of this situation lies in implementing the labour standards in light of the International Labor Organization’s conventions, South Asian and Turkish ship breaking industries’ guidelines and the Hong Kong International Convention.

Bashir Mehmoodani, president of the Ship Breaking Workers Union Gadani, said that one and a half year on to the oil tanker tragedy in Gadani, caused on November 1, 2016, in which 29 workers were killed and several were injured yet the employers and government have not learned any lessons. He added that the employers, government and the concerned authorities have turned deaf ear to the workers rights, their health and safety due to which deadly accidents have been occurring on a nearly daily basis, and many of them go unreported. Meanwhile, workers have been deprived of their constitutional and legal rights to obtain fair wages and medical covers, among others. Neither the situation seems to be changing for any good, he said.

Mansoor said that the ship breaking industry earns billions of rupees to the federal and provincial governments, employs thousands of workers directly and indirectly and caters up to 30percent the country’s iron needs. “Because of the governments’ negligence, the industry is deteriorating the results of which are devastating. Due to a slower pace and hazardous nature of work, a lot of iron is being imported in the country, thus causing heavy loss to the national exchequer.”

He added that the downstream industries, especially over 200 re-rolling mills, other linked businesses, and over two million people employed there have been going through a crisis under uncertainty about their future. He said that the similar industries across the world have considerably changed after implementing labour rights and their standards under the internationally accepted conventions. He cited the example of ship breaking industry in Alang, India where their government having directions from the country’s supreme court has started implementing a ship breaking code—as a result the accidents and the casualties there have reduced to a considerable extent.

The speakers demanded that legislation for the ship-breaking industry should be done in the light of the ILO guidelines, Hong Kong International Convention for the safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships should be ratified, the tripartite consultative mechanism to make the situation better be initiated in letter and spirit, all legislative works to get the ship breaking law drafted, passed through the assembly and enacted be done, the real union of workers must be recognised legally and constitutionally and be put into the consultations, access to ambulance, dispensary and safe drinking water should be given to workers in each of the ship-breaking yards and a hospital be built in Gadani, a labour colony with all basic necessities, education and health facilities and proper communication network be built in Gadani.