GENEVA (Staff Report) – IndustriALL Global Union affiliates in Pakistan say workers warned management about cracks in a four-story polythene factory before it collapsed on 4 November.
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The tragedy has so far claimed the lives of 23 workers, with up to 150 people still trapped in the wreckage of the factory building in Lahore. More than 80 workers have been pulled alive from the rubble, and some remain in a critical condition in hospital.
According to IndustriALL sources, workers saw cracks in the building a few days before the collapse and informed management but nothing was done in time.
The factory, belonging to polythene bag manufacturer Rajput Polymer, had reportedly suffered damage during an earthquake more than a week ago and was undergoing building work to have additional fourth storey, allegedly without planning permission.
One witness, who visited the factory on 2 November, said he noticed that an exhaust pipe was damaged because the wall it was fixed to was sinking slowly into the ground. When workers put more pressure on the management about their concerns, they called the owner. He was reportedly killed while inspecting the factory at the time of the collapse.
IndustriALL sources who visited the scene the morning after the collapse say family members of the trapped workers had been waiting all night at the scene for news about their loved ones.
The authorities involved in the rescue operation do not know the exact number of people trapped under the rubble as none of the workers were registered, according to reports. Many people also stayed at the factory and workers on the night shift could well have been sleeping inside the building when it collapsed.
Workers say they were being paid less than the minimum wage of 13,000 rupees per month (US$122) and were working 12-hour shifts
This is the second factory incident of collapse in Lahore in a little over two months. In September a garment factory’s roof collapsed killing four workers.
“These incidents are happening because there are no proper factory inspections being done in Pakistan. Factory owners are killing workers by saving money that should have been spent on making workplaces safe. There is no political will in government to implement factory inspections and other labour laws. There was no union in this big factory, which could have raised the workers’ voice and saved lives,” said Kahlid Mahmood, Director of the Labour Education Foundation in Lahore.
“We demand a full transparent, independent, investigation into this tragedy. We urge the Pakistani government to take immediate action to prevent more workers being killed in unsafe factories,” said Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL’s assistant general secretary.