On 1 November 2016, a massive explosion in an oil tanker at the Gadani shipbreaking yard left 29 workers dead and more than 40 suffering burn injuries. Four workers were reported missing, and no one knows for sure how many workers were at work at the time of the accident.
Speaking at a rally on the second anniversary of the accident, union leaders said that a series of accidents since November 2016 show that no lessons have been learnt. Government and employers continue to ignore health and safety at the cost of workers’ lives. The accidents are an unambiguous reminder that shipbreaking workers in Pakistan risk death to earn a living.
On 8 January 2017, a worker fell from a ship and died. On 9 January 2017, at least five workers died in a fire aboard a liquified petroleum gas container ship. Seven workers were injured in a fire accident on 14 October 2018.
On 2 November 2018, just a day after workers marked the second anniversary of the accident and paid homage to the victims, five more workers were injured in an accident while breaking the ship Mistral in yard 66.
Gadani shipbreaking workers face dangerous working conditions, precarious work, poor wages, non-implementation of labour law, hurdles in exercising the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, lack of health facilities and lack of access to clean drinking water.
Trade unions have long demanded that the government of Baluchistan adopt new regulations to improve health and safety in Pakistan’s shipbreaking industry. After the November 2016 tragedy, the shipbreaking workers’ union submitted a draft law to improve safety in shipbreaking yards, but the government is yet to act on it. The government appointed committees to investigate the November 2016 accident and propose new safety regulations, but no significant progress has been made to improve the situation.
Apoorva Kaiwar, South Asia regional secretary of IndustriALL Global Union said:
“It is horrific that management and shipyard owners neglect workers’ safety to the extent that workers’ lives are routinely endangered. Both government and employers should learn lessons from the past accidents and take immediate proactive measures to stop loss of workers’ lives and ensure safe shipbreaking in Pakistan’s shipbreaking industry.”
Kan Matsuzaki, IndustriALL director for the shipbuilding and shipbreaking sector, said:
“We reiterate our demand that the government immediately ratify the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships and adopt national and federal regulations to implement the provisions of the convention.
“The government should set up tripartite health and safety committee with the shipbreaking workers’ union and employers for its implementation without delay.