‘Fighting to breathe’

Pakistan’s stone-crushing industry is in dire need of attention due to hazardous working conditions.

Pakistan’s stone-crushing industry is in dire need of attention due to hazardous working conditions and the looming threat of silicosis, a fatal lung disease. Thousands of workers and labourers are at threat, as outlined the HRCP’s recent report ‘Fighting to Breathe’. This disclosure calls for an immediate re-evaluation of occupational safety and health standards, as the human toll continues to rise.

The HRCP’s plea for a human rights body to investigate individual silicosis claims reflects an acknowledgment of the glaring gap between existing legislation, notably the Factories Act 1934, and its dismal enforcement on the ground. Despite interventions by the Supreme Court, the workers’ plight remains largely unchanged. The right to work in conditions that guarantee health and safety is enshrined in various international human rights instruments. ICESCR, to which Pakistan is a party, is one such convention that explicitly outlines the right to work under just and favourable conditions in no uncertain terms. The stone-crushing labourers, lacking protective equipment and exposed to life-threatening conditions, are denied this fundamental right. The immediate establishment and empowerment of Occupational Safety and Health councils across all provinces are essential in addressing the right to work in safe conditions. Adequate resourcing of these councils is equally imperative to ensure the practical realisation of the right to safe and healthy working conditions for every labourer.

Furthermore, the call for employers to provide free health insurance to workers directly impacts the right to an adequate standard of living. Access to healthcare is integral to safeguarding the dignity and well-being of workers and their families. Caring for their safety not only fulfills a moral imperative but aligns with the broader human rights framework.

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