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Scarcity of health and safety measures at Gadani shipbreaking

NGO Shipbreaking Platform in its annual report 2017 says that pollutant and dangerous scrapping has been a key area of concern for Pakistani ship recycling industry. Gadani shipbreaking yard is the world third largest consisting of 132 shipbreaking plots. It operates directly on the beach, without any drained working areas to protect the sea and sand from pollution. Dangerous waste in Gadani, hazardous and polluting substances like asbestos, PCBs and residue oils are dumped behind the shipbreaking area.

Workers’ health and safety are being deliberately ignored in Gadani. Pakistan National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), have expressed strong concerns related to the systemic breaches of basic labor rights. Most of the shipbreaking workers in Gadani are from the poorest regions of Pakistan. Workers do not have access to clean drinking water.

The explosion of the Aces tanker on 1 November 2016, there has been increased awareness of the dangers faced by the workers in the shipbreaking yards in Pakistan. The explosion caused at that time the death of 31 workers and serious injury of at least another 58 workers. The major blast is the worst tragedy in shipbreaking history. This was caused by several gas cylinder explosions. In this context workers have rallied in Gadani to protest against the deplorable working conditions and the lack of government support in enforcing safety and health laws.

In the beginning of 2017, five workers lost their lives in another explosion of a tanker. This led to a moratorium on the import of tankers for 2017 imposed by the government. The ban has been lifted in 2018, without solid measures in place to prevent the reoccurrence of these tragedies. The catastrophic explosion caught fire again; fortunately, without casualties this time.

The Platform’s member organizations have been following the government’s promise to make the Gadani shipyards safer for workers. It has been following the development of stricter laws for the shipbreaking industry.

It is surprising that Gadani can now resume breaking tankers, with no infrastructure in place to mechanize this heavy industry. In 2017 protests and rallies were organized in Pakistan, of their rights, better labour laws, the use of proper health and safety equipment in the yards and more consideration from the authorities.

The Dutch trade union, FNV, has conducted research on the shipbreaking industry in South Asia. The ship-breaking industry in Gadani, Balochistan has been declining due to labour rights exploitation by the employers. There was non-implementation on the internationally accepted labor standards and the criminal negligence of the government and its authorities. Thousands of workers, directly associated with the industry, have been working in inhumane conditions and without any safety. They are receiving injuries for life and deaths in accidents at workplace every other day.

Despite so many casualties, none of them has been prosecuted and they continue to run their illegal and criminal operations freely.

The improvement 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.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. The concerned authorities have not paid any heed 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. The workers have been deprived of their constitutional and legal rights to obtain fair wages and medical covers, among others.

Ship breaking industry earns billions of rupees to the federal and provincial governments, employs thousands of workers directly and indirectly and caters up to 30 percent the country’s iron needs. Due to the governments’ negligence, the industry is worsening. The hazardous nature of work, a lot of iron is being imported in the country, causing heavy loss to the national exchequer.

Over 200 re-rolling mills, other linked businesses, and over two million people employed there have been going through critical condition and under dilemma about their future.

Shipbreaking industry in Alang, India where their government having directions from the country’s Supreme Court has started implementing a shipbreaking code. As a result the accidents and the casualties there have reduced to a considerable extent.

It has been 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.

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 recognized legally and constitutionally.

Access to ambulance, dispensary and safe drinking water should be given to workers in each of the ship-breaking yards. A hospital is to be built in Gadani, a labour colony with all basic necessities, education and health facilities and proper communication network be built in Gadani.


Business and employment down in Gadani

Business and employment opportunities at the Gadani shipbreaking yard, which was once the largest in the world, have decreased considerably over the years due to the use of outdated methods of dismantling ships and precarious health and safety conditions. It is necessary that the government and the employers take necessary steps for preventing the industry from shutting down.

The industry was meeting 30 percent of the country’s iron needs, and if no action taken seriously the situation could cause a huge loss to the national exchequer. There were once 35,000 people employed in Gadani. Today, they have reduced to around 10, 000. Over 200 rerolling mills across the country and over two million workers are uncertain about their future.

It is necessary that the employers, government, labor and other authorities should consider the issue seriously to save the industry from nearly shutting down.

Pakistan’s ship breaking industry demolished almost half of the global scrapped oil vessels during the last year, putting the country on the map of the world’s leading ship breakers, a United Nations body said. In 2015, gross 1.169 million tons of scrapped oil vessels were sold for demolition around the world, said the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), in its annual ‘Review of Maritime Transport 2016’. Of that, 540,000 tons of such vessels were moved to Pakistan for breaking.

The review recorded 23 million tons of vessels including oil and chemical tankers, bulk and gas carriers, offshore and ferries, container and passenger ships sold for demolition around the world during the last year. Most demolitions take place in Asia; four countries. Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and China accounted for 95 percent of ship scrapping gross tonnage in 2015. Pakistan had the highest share of oil tankers, India of container ships and Bangladesh of offshore.

Developed countries account for 60 percent of global vessel ownerships, the share of developing countries is also increasing. “The leading ship-owners among developing countries are in Asia, led by China and Singapore,” the report said. The largest ship owning countries in South Asia are in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The UNCTAD advised the governments to identify and invest in maritime sectors in which their countries may have a comparative advantage. Policymakers need to carefully assess the competitive environment for each maritime sub sector they wish to develop, and to consider the value-added of a sector for the state economy, including possible synergies and spillover effects into other sectors – maritime and beyond.

The UN body said countries also differ with regard to the proportion of officers and ratings that work on board ships.

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