Ship recycling industry in Pakistan – State and mafia against workers

Source: Wikimedia

Pakistan ranks third in the world for shipbreaking and recycling. It is famous for recycling large vessels particularly oil and cargo. It is a dangerous work where workers manually use different iron welding machines to break down the vessels. The cut-out iron and parts are then removed by large cranes onto a beach scrap yard, which is then made into appropriate sizes to fit in trucks for onward transportation to recycling plants. The port of Gadani houses the largest shipbreaking or ship recycling industry. Every month there is a huge incident whereby workers are killed or severely injured due to the lack of safety measures. The shipbreaking business owners spend no money on workers safety in this dangerous work. The government labour department is also ignoring the fate and plight of workers working in the shipbreaking industry. In the latest incident happened in February 2019, two workers were killed. The largest one was in November 2016 when 26 workers were killed and 58 wounded when an oil tanker exploded. A year after in November 2017 the same oil tanker exploded again in 5 workers and 50 injured. The government rather than ensuring proper safety measures, ban gathering of two or more workers to avoid potential worker organising. Shipbreaking business is a multibillion-dollar venture, but in Pakistan, it is conducted like a mafia whereby a mafia boss a.k.a. the business owner is operating in a hidden manner without registering his company with the government offices and hiring workers from other provinces through labour contractors on slavery wages.
International NGOs are taking huge money from foreign donors and are doing nothing except producing reports and summaries including dissemination events in luxury hotels. The only hope for the workers of the shipbreaking industry is an organised force in the form of a trade union to defend their rights. However, mafia bosses of the shipbreaking industry are operating with the local police to abduct or arrest any worker who is trying to organise and form a trade union. In a recent incident the worker Babu Karim, who try to set up a trade union among shipbreaking workers was arrested by police and tortured brutally, and he died in police custody on 18 February 2019. These are the conditions and circumstances of the shipbreaking industry. PTUS along with other organisations and trade unions are standing with the workers of the shipbreaking industry, and PTUS will highlight the issues on all international forums particularly in trade unions active in maritime. We demand proper health and safety assurance to all workers working in the shipbuilding industry, provide them with living wages and proper pensionable employment contracts and safe living conditions. We also demand the government to regularise the shipbuilding industry and properly register all activities and businesses operating in the shipyard. Also, the families of dead and injured workers should be compensated, and those responsible business owners should be put behind bars.