When Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg sound the same dire warning about jobs, it’s time to listen

At his Harvard University commencement speech on Thursday, Facebook (FB) chief executive Zuckerberg, had some tough words for the Class of 2017. “Our generation will have to deal with tens of millions of jobs replaced by automation like self-driving cars and trucks,” he said, adding, “When our parents graduated, purpose reliably came from your job, your church, your community,. But today, technology and automation are eliminating many jobs. Membership in communities is declining. Many people feel disconnected and depressed, and are trying to fill a void.”

Gates, the founder of Microsoft (MSFT) earlier this month, sounded the same warning. Gates said he didn’t want to sound like the guy from “The Graduate,” which celebrates 50 years this year. In that movie, old Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) was given this very famous piece of advice: “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word …Plastics,” And today? That word would likely be “robots.” Gates took his 34.8 million Twitter followers by the virtual shoulder and said “artificial intelligence” would have a huge impact. In other words, why not join the revolution? After all, that’s exactly what Zuckerberg and Gates did with social media and computer software.

But that’s not the only response to the robot revolution. Last February, Gates also told Quartz that robots should free up labor “and give graduates an opportunity to focus on jobs that only let us do a better job of reaching out to the elderly, having smaller class sizes, helping kids with special needs. You know, all of those are things where human empathy and understanding are still very, very unique.” Gates said there is a counter-intuitive way of approaching the rise of robots. “So if you can take the labor that used to do the thing automation replaces …then you’re net ahead.”

Zuckerberg too spoke about finding meaningful jobs and purpose in this new automated economy. “Class of 2017, you are graduating into a world that needs purpose. It’s up to you to create it,” he said, adding, “Taking on big meaningful projects is the first thing we can do to create a world where everyone has a sense of purpose. The second is redefining equality to give everyone the freedom they need to pursue purpose. Many of our parents had stable jobs throughout their careers.” Today’s graduates, he said, will need to carve their own path, but have the freedom to fail and to try again.

They’re not wrong: Robots are expected to create 15 million new jobs in the U.S. over the next 10 years, as a direct result of automation and artificial intelligence, equivalent to 10% of the workforce, a recent report by Forrester Research found. The downside: robotics will also kill 25 million jobs over the same period. So in one way Gates is correct. Artificial intelligence and automation is an area undergoing a seismic shift, just like computers did in the 1980s and plastics did 30 years before that, and how people around the world changed how the communicate and share information about themselves (and, yes, data about themselves) 10 years ago.

And what field will be hot 50 years from now? Some 65% of Americans expect that within 50 years robots and computers will “definitely” or “probably” do much of the work currently done by humans, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C. Some 38% of jobs in the U.S. are at “high risk” of being replaced by robots and artificial intelligence over the next 15 years, a separate estimate by consulting and accounting firm PwC found, which is still lower than Germany (35%) and the U.K. (30%).

But for those who don’t want to work in artificial intelligence, there are some “robot-proof” careers, at least for now. They include composers and artists, nurse practitioners, home health aides, elder care specialists, child care workers, youth directors, early educators and, finally, human resources executives, a report released earlier this month by careers firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas concluded. “Recruiting, interviewing, and hiring of new staff, plus consulting with top executives on strategic planning is hardly imitable by a robot,” it found. And, of course, robot engineers will not be replaced by robots.

Low-paying jobs appear most at risk from robots, economists predict. For those who want to avoid being replaced by robots, a college education will likely help. As MarketWatch previously reported, there’s an 83% chance that automation will replace a job that pays $20 per hour, according to a White House report released last year. It found that there’s only a 31% chance that robots will take over a job that pays between $30 and $40 per hour, and only a 4% chance that automation will replace jobs with an hourly wage over $40.

Gates also cited biosciences and energy as a good bet for the Class of 2017. Traditional energy and energy efficiency sectors employ around 6.4 million Americans, according to the 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report. These sectors increased in 2016 by around 5% on the previous year and account for roughly 14% of all those created in the country. Jobs in biosciences are increasing at a rate of 10% per year, the latest report on the industry by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization estimated, and employs nearly 1.7 million people in the U.S.

And Zuckerberg also had some words of wisdom for tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. “Let me tell you a secret: no one does when they begin. Ideas don’t come out fully formed. They only become clear as you work on them. You just have to get started,” he said. “If I had to understand everything about connecting people before I began, I never would have started Facebook. Movies and pop culture get this all wrong. The idea of a single eureka moment is a dangerous lie. It makes us feel inadequate since we haven’t had ours. It prevents people with seeds of good ideas from getting started.”

Prime accused in Baldia factory case brought to Karachi

KARACHI, Dec 13: Main accused of the Baldia factory fire was brought to Karachi from Bangkok here on Tuesday.
two-member Federal Investigation Agency�s team had gone to Bangkok after Bangkok police and Interpol arrested former Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Sector In-charge and main accused in the Baldia factory fire case.

According to the charge sheet of Baldia factory case, Abdul Rehman alias Bhola, alongwith other accused set a fire to garment factory after its owner refused to pay extortion to the chief of the MQM Tanzeemi Committee, Hammad Siddiqui. The incident, occurred on 11 September 2012, had taken lives of 258 innocent factory workers.

Abdul Rehman had been absconding with multiple non-bailable arrest warrants being issued by the court but he remained at large till the Bangkok police and Interpol arrested him from hotel in the Thailand capital. Abdul Rehman, 46, was detained at a hotel in the red light district Nana area of the capital on Friday evening, said Thailand’s Interpol chief. Addressing a news conference on Saturday the Bangkok Police Chief said Thailand had Zero tolerance for criminals. He said that Bhola will be handed over to Pakistan authorities upon their arrival into the Thai Capital.

According to reports, quoting Major General Apichart Suriboonya, the Thai Interpol tracked Bhola following an arrest warrant sought by the Pakistani authorities.

FIA deputed to officers, deputy director Badaruddin Baloch and Inspector Rehmatullah Dhomki, to bring back Bhola from Thailand. Sources said that Bhola, a close aide of former Tanzeemi Committee head Hammad Siddiqui, had joined the Mustafa Kamal led Pak Sarzameen Party. According to membership form, Abdul Rehman s/o of Abdul Sattar, age 45, is resident of Baldia Town and is government official in Karachi Metropolitan Corporation.

Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) chief Mustafa Kamal A, while talking to media in Lahore denied that his party had any association with Abdul Rehman alias Bhola. Bhola was never a member of PSP, we categorically deny this claim. Anyone can download and fill the party form off the internet, Kamal told. The whatasapp group and social media website, especially Twitter, were flooded with Bhola family members being snapped with PSP leaders in Pakistan House.

Hitch a Ride on a Rickshaw Via the Internet

Uber on Thursday launched its rickshaw-hailing service, uberAUTO, in Karachi.

The service will be giving free rides all week, Uber announced on its Twitter.

To avail the free rides, patrons are asked to enter the promo code FREEAUTO.

With the aforementioned promo code, patrons can avail five free rickshaw rides up to Rs75 each, today through Nov 27.

People can pay using cash or card, depending on their preference.

Uber first launched uberAuto in Lahore in October this year.

In order to use uberAuto, a patron will need to download the Uber App from any App store and request a ride from the app.

Blast rips through ship in Gadani killing & injuring dozens

KARACHI / GADANI, Nov 2: At least 16 people were killed and dozens wounded on Tuesday when a huge blast ripped through an oil tanker being broken up for scrap in the Gadani shipbreaking yard, some 45 kilometres west of Karachi.

It was not immediately clear what triggered the deadly fire, though some reports suggested it was ignited by a gas cylinder blast inside the 22,000-ton oil tanker.

Officials said the ship was still ablaze as there was not enough equipment to extinguish it. And witnesses say more than 100 workers were on board the vessel when the blast occurred, triggering fears that the death toll might go up.

“The massive vessel was moored at Plot No 56 and workers were cleaning it when a massive explosion occurred around 9:40am,” Nasir Mansoor, the deputy general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation, told The Express Tribune.

The blast occurred in the fuel tank of the ship, he said. Firefighters from Karachi and from the air force and navy were attempting to put out the blaze, Mansoor said. He added that the firefighters would have to wait for the fire to die out “as they lack the foam required to douse it”. Television footage showed a thick plume of black smoke rising from the ship as rescuers rushed to the scene. Edhi Foundation volunteers confirmed 16 deaths, saying that they have ferried 45 injured workers to different hospitals of Karachi for treatment.

“The explosion shook the whole yard. Initially, we thought a bomb has been dropped in the area,” Bashir Mehmoodani, the president of the Shipbreaking Mazdoor Union, told The Express Tribune. “The explosion sent heavy pieces of metal flying up to 300 meters away.”

Mehmoodani said things were really bad. “An unclear number of workers are said to be trapped in the burning ship,” he added. The rescue operation started within half an hour of the blast as the first Edhi ambulance from Hub Chowki reached the site, said worker Saleem Baloch, who took part in the operation. “At least 100 ambulances were on the spot within an hour,” he added.

Cause unconfirmed
There were conflicting reports about what triggered the blaze. Balochistan Home Secretary Akbar Harifal said it was caused by a gas cylinder explosion, but police believe it was ignited when one of the workers on the ship lit up a fire oblivious of the fact that the oil tanker was full of combustible fumes.
Local police official Rehmatullah said it was too early to say what had ignited the fire. “We will register a case against the owners of the shipbreaking yard for alleged negligence,” he told The Express Tribune.

Labour inspection
Labourers in Gadani often work in poor conditions without basic protective gear. Two days back, they staged a protest outside the Karachi Press Club against alleged exploitation by employers in connivance with the labour department and police.

Fida Ahmed, the deputy director labour department in Hub, dismissed the allegation, saying that all workers were registered for social security and other facilities. “The labour department is also investigating the deadly blaze and a report will be available by Wednesday (today).”

The Gadani shipbreaking industry has fallen on hard times recently and employs about 9,000 workers, fewer than in its boom years at the end of the last decade.

Burn casualties
The casualties from Gadani were driven to the Civil Hospital Hub where medics referred those with life-threatening burn injuries to health facilities in Karachi. “We received 26 injured, but one of them, 26-year-old Asghar, succumbed to his injuries,” said Dr Abdul Qadir Siddiqui of the Civil Hospital Karachi. .

He added that six of the injured were treated for their minor injuries and discharged subsequently. “Five of the injured are in a critical condition because their prognosis is not satisfactory, though doctors are trying their best to save their lives,” he added.

Workers call strike
The Gadani shipbreaking yard workers called a three-day strike in protest against the deadly conflagration. In the afternoon, workers staged a rally, demanding that those responsible for the deaths of their fellows be punished. They alleged that owners of the shipbreaking yard were risking the lives of workers by making them work in hazardous conditions. The chairman of the Shipbreaking Association was not available to respond to the allegations.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his ‘deep grief and sorrow’ over the incident, according to a statement by his office. Industrial accidents are common in Pakistan, with workplaces often forgoing basic safety measures and equipment in the absence of legislation to protect labourers.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 2nd, 2016.

Two Chinese engineers killed in mine accident in Pakistan

Islamabad, Oct 21: Bodies of two Chinese engineers, who were killed after being trapped in a lead and zinc mine in southwestern province of Balochistan, have been retrieved by rescuers, nearly a month after the accident.

The Chinese were employed at the MMC Huaye Dudder Mining Company in Dudder area of Lasbela district in southwestern province of Balochistan.

The bodies of both Chinese engineers were pulled out late on Wednesday night, according to an official of the company.

Officials said that a Pakistani worker was also trapped in the mine and rescuers are yet to find his body.

Chinese are working in different projects in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

German firm to compensate Karachi factory fire victims

Karachi factory fire (Credit: nation.com.pk)

KARACHI, Oct 23: A German discount clothing retailer has agreed to pay more than $1.2 million compensation for victims of a Pakistan factory fire, a union leader said Wednesday.

The blaze in September at the Ali Enterprises factory in Karachi, which made ready-to-wear garments for Western stores, killed 258 workers and injured 110 more.

German news magazine Der Spiegel reported in its online edition on Tuesday that the Kik chain, which the factory supplied with jeans, had agreed to pay a total of $500,000 compensation – less than $2,000 for every life lost.

Nasir Mansoor, head of the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), a local union for Pakistani factory workers, said his organisation and the Clean Clothes Campaign, an international group striving for better conditions for garment workers, had forced Kik to up the compensation.

“We did not agree with the compensation they had announced. We warned them that we would seek for international justice if they did not share responsibility and deservedly compensated the families,” Mansoor told AFP.

“Now, Kik has agreed to pay initially 500,000 euros ($650,000). They would soon pay another half-a-million euros.”

Mansoor said NTUF was in talks to secure an even bigger payout for the workers.

Kik agreed to compensate the victims and their families only after activists presented them with evidence that most of the factory’s output was destined for its Okey brand, Mansoor said.

“We saw the labels on the merchandise, checked invoices and interviewed the workers to know that at least 90 per cent of the garments, the Ali Enterprises was producing, was the Okey brand for Kik,” he said.

“We contacted the company and asked for the compensation. Initially, they declined to accept the fact, but they finally gave in to the concrete evidences we had.”

The Pakistani government has paid more than 100 family members 700,000 rupees ($7,000), but many families say they are still waiting for cheques, which were held up by governmental red-tape.

Of the 110 workers who were injured, dozens suffered disabling injuries.

About 2,000 other workers have lost their livelihood.

“Life has become hell since that fire,” said Mohammad Khalid, 29, who worked at the factory with his elder brother Majid. Majid died and Mohammad lost his left arm in the fire.

“I have to take care of my brother’s family as well, but cannot find a job because of my disability,” he said.

His family has not yet received compensation from the government and he sees the German company’s money as inadequate to offer a better life for the two families.

“We have lost both male breadwinners. This compensation will not help for long. Our women and children will have to work hard to feed all of us,” he said.

Two of the three factory owners are facing murder charges. Their application for bail last week was rejected and they were sent to jail on remand.


Anger Rolls Across Pakistani City in Aftermath of Factory Fire

Relatives mourn Karachi factory fire (Credit stuff.co.nz)

KARACHI, Sept 13 — The towering metal door at the back of the burned-out garment factory could have been an escape for many of the low-paid textile workers caught in the fire here on Tuesday. Instead, it stands as a testament to greed and corruption at a factory where 289 trapped employees died. .

As hundreds of workers scrambled to escape the flaming factory after a boiler explosion, they found the main sliding door — 30 feet high, big enough for a truckload of cotton — firmly locked. Instead of letting the workers escape, several survivors said Thursday, plant managers forced them to stay in order to save the company’s stock: piles of stonewashed jeans, destined for Europe.

“They prevented people from leaving, so they could save the clothes,” said Shahzad, a stone-faced man in sweat-drenched clothes, standing in the blacked corridors of the factory.

His voice trembling, Shahzad, who goes by just one name, said he had already recovered the body of a 15-year-old cousin; now he was looking for his 23-year-old brother, Ayaz. He figured he was buried under the mounds of ash and twisted metal.

“He’s gone,” he said quietly.

Karachi buried its dead on Thursday amid grief and recrimination over the deadliest industrial accident in Pakistan’s 65-year history.

Sounds of mourning filled working-class neighborhoods as emotionally charged funeral processions wound through the narrow streets. Amid such a high death toll, the stories of misfortune competed for pathos — one street lost eight residents; a mother said she lost three daughters to the inferno, then a son who tried to rescue them.

At the factory, known as Ali Enterprises, rescue workers quenched the last flames 48 hours after they started. Volunteers cast bundles of smoldering jeans from a first-floor window.

Meanwhile, the police spent a second day hunting for the factory’s three owners, who now face possible charges of conspiracy to commit murder.

Mirza Ikhtiar Baig, the prime minister’s adviser on textiles, noted in a statement that after the first fire engine reached the scene on Tuesday, firefighters found that the manager had ordered the gates to be closed, “not allowing anyone to leave the premises without checking.”

Instead, up to 600 factory workers were left with just one open exit, or forced to take their chances plunging from windows considered too high to require bars.

Inside the factory, warmth still glowed from the pitch-black basement where many workers perished from smoke inhalation.

Muhammad Raheel, a rescuer, said he helped recover 30 bodies before fainting and having to be carried out on a stretcher. “I still have visions in my head,” he said. “It is impossible to forget.”

The disaster was a blow to an already struggling city: Karachi, a bustling megalopolis of an estimated 18 million people that has come to represent both the immense promise of Pakistan and its tragic failings.

For decades, Karachi and its growing factory sector have been a magnet for migrants, both from outside Pakistan’s borders and within them.

Afghans and Iranians arrived in huge numbers in the 1980s, fleeing war in their homelands. Recent years have seen a strong flow of ethnic Pashtuns from the Taliban-affected areas of northwestern Pakistan, as well as refugees from surrounding areas of Sindh Province displaced by the floods of 2010 and 2011.

The Ali Enterprise factory was a microcosm of Karachi. “We had Biharis, Gujratis, Baloch, Sindhi, Pashtuns, Urdu-speakers, Punjabis,” one survivor said. “Everyone worked here in peace.”

But that harmony has often been missing from the city’s streets, plagued by increasing violence in recent years: sectarian blood baths, criminal score-settling, militant atrocities and the bloody rivalry among the city’s ethnically divided political parties.

Activists from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the city’s most powerful and muscular political party, led cleanup efforts at the stricken factory on Thursday.

Karachi’s ambitions have also been thwarted by the faltering authority of the local or federal governments, which have failed to enforce the most basic workplace standards.

In theory, Pakistan’s laws offer strong protections to workers, but application is notoriously weak. In textiles, which account for 53 percent of exports, employers routinely sidestep health and safety regulations through bribery and corruption.

“The state inspectors can make a lot of extra money,” said Sharafat Ali, an activist with the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research, which has documented abuses in the textile industry. “They have lifestyles that go beyond their wages.”

The lack of regulation was apparent inside the factory, which contained space for fire extinguishers that had failed and directions to emergency exits that were locked.

“There was no safety in there, no fire equipment,” said Khwaja Sohail Mansoor, a local lawmaker, who stood near a fire truck outside the factory.

Survivors of the blaze said rule-breaking was the norm at the plant, where many worked 12-hour shifts and were paid as little as $58 per month — one-third less than the statutory minimum.

German-language labels on bundles of denim that survived the blaze carried a brand named “Okay Men.” And workers at the factory said they had been forced to lie about their working conditions to auditors representing foreign buyers.

Hafeeza Bano, a 35-year-old with burn wounds on her leg and arm, said she had to misrepresent her working hours and pay or face the threat of dismissal. “The owners were very cruel, and very greedy,” she said.

Those men — identified as Abdul Aziz, Mohammad Arshad and Shahid Bhaila, and sought for arrest — have yet to be found.

A thread of outrage ran through news coverage. “Hundreds saw hell on Earth” read the banner headline in Dawn, the leading English-language paper.

On Thursday, the Sindh Province labor minister resigned. Hours later, the government announced that a retired judge would lead an investigation tasked with delivering initial findings next week. But few here believed it would amount to much.

“We need to do more than change the faces — we need to change the policies,” said Farida Bibi, who lost her 26-year-old son. “Then we need to hang the men who owned this factory.”

Alarmed at the wave of public anger, other textile manufacturers sought to distance themselves from their actions.

“We are shellshocked by what happened, and these people need to be held accountable,” said Shehzad Saleem, chairman of the Pakistan Garment Exporters and Manufacturers Association. “But everyone needs to calm down and let the investigation take place.”

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement called for three days of mourning, but the city is expected to be back on its feet soon. Karachi’s resilience is a point of pride, and normal life, of a sort, has tended to quickly resume after floods and bombings.

But Parween Rahman, the head of a major aid project in Orangi, the city’s largest slum, said that resilience may be a product of circumstance as much as a triumph of the human spirit. “Where do they go? They have to live their lives. They have to survive,” she said. “They have little other option.”


More Than 300 Killed in Pakistani Factory Fires

Escaping Karachi's garment fire (Credit: dw.de)

KARACHI, Sept 12— Fire ravaged a textile factory complex in the commercial hub of Karachi early Wednesday, killing almost 300 workers trapped behind locked doors and raising questions about the woeful lack of regulation in a vital sector of Pakistan’s faltering economy.

It was Pakistan’s worst industrial accident, officials said, and it came just hours after another fire, at a shoe factory in the eastern city of Lahore, had killed at least 25.

Flames and smoke swept the cramped textile factory in Baldia Town, a northwestern industrial suburb, creating panic among the hundreds of poorly paid workers who had been making undergarments and plastic tools.

They had few options of escape — every exit but one had been locked, officials said, and the windows were mostly barred. In desperation, some flung themselves from the top floors of the four-story building, sustaining serious injuries or worse, witnesses said. But many others failed to make it that far, trapped by an inferno that advanced mercilessly through a building that officials later described as a death trap.

Rescue workers said most of the victims died of smoke inhalation, and many of the survivors sustained third-degree burns. As firefighters advanced into the wreckage during the day, battling back flames, they found dozens of bodies clumped together on the lower floors.

One survivor, Muhammad Aslam, said he heard two loud blasts before the factory filled first with smoke, then with the desperate screams of his fellow workers. “Only one entrance was open. All the others were closed,” he said at a hospital, describing scenes of panic and chaos.

Mr. Aslam, who was being treated for a broken leg, said he saved himself by leaping from a third-floor window.

Hundreds of anguished relatives gathered at the site, many of them sobbing as they sought news. Some impeded the rescue operation, and baton-wielding police officers tried to disperse the crowd but failed.

“If my son does not return, I will commit suicide in front of the factory,” one woman shouted before news cameras as relatives tried to console her.

The death toll rose quickly. By evening, the Karachi commissioner, Roshan Ali Sheikh, said that 289 people had died, most of them men. The provincial health minister, Sagheer Ahmed, put the toll at 248, which he said was the number of bodies accounted for at major hospitals. The number was expected to rise further.

In the shoe factory fire in Lahore, 25 people were reported killed and dozens wounded. Officials said that blaze had been set off by a generator that caught fire and ignited chemicals stored nearby in the factory, illegally located in a residential neighborhood. Most of the victims were men under 25.

The fires immediately revived long-running questions about the regulation of Pakistan’s manufacturing sector, centered in Karachi, and of the vital textiles industry in particular.

Textiles are a major source of foreign currency for Pakistan, accounting for 7.4 percent of its gross domestic product in 2011 and employing 38 percent of the manufacturing work force. Pakistani cotton products are highly sought in neighboring India and form the backbone of a burgeoning fashion industry that caters to the elite. President Asif Ali Zardari’s government has often called on the United States to drop tariff barriers to Pakistani textile imports, which it says would be preferable to traditional aid.

But the industry suffers from weak regulation, characterized by lax oversight and corruption. Business owners often put profits over safety, workers’ rights advocates say.

On Wednesday evening the police raided the home of the owner of the Karachi factory, Abdul Aziz, who appeared to have gone into hiding. According to an online business information service, his company, Ali Enterprises, manufactured denim, knitted garments and hosiery and had capital of between $10 million and $50 million.

His nephew, Shahid Bhaila, the chief executive officer of the company, was also being sought for questioning. The police said both men had been placed on the exit control list, barring them from leaving the country.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the most powerful political party in Karachi, announced three days of mourning. The city electricity company said it would cancel all outstanding bills for the families of those affected as a good will gesture.

The cause of the fire remained unclear. Geo News, the largest news channel, speculated that it had been started by extortionists, reporting that Mr. Aziz had previously faced a demand for a shakedown payment of more than $100,000, which he refused.

But others said an electrical fire was more likely. Wali Muhammad, a former electrical inspector, said that most accidental fires are caused by short circuits in equipment. But since 2003, he said, inspectors had been forbidden by law from visiting factories in Karachi and Punjab; it was not immediately clear why.

“This is criminal negligence,” he told Geo News, referring to the ban.

Another mystery surrounded the locked factory doors. Some survivors said the exits had been shuttered to prevent workers from slipping out early; others said it was the consequence of a recent break-in.

A majority of the garment workers came from Orangi Town, a poor working-class neighborhood in Karachi. Seventeen of the victims came from the same street, local news media reported.

The factory building suffered severe structural damage in the blaze, and officials feared it would collapse on rescue workers during the day.

While many distraught family members set up camp near the factory, others moved between city hospitals, seeking news of loved ones. One man said he was looking for his cousin, who earned $70 a month as a cashier. “He’s still missing. I’m afraid he may have been working in the basement,” the man said.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called on the government to mount an immediate investigation. “The head of the firefighting operations in Karachi has noted that the factory was dangerous, flimsily built and had no emergency exits,” said Zohra Yusuf, chairwoman of the rights group. “Why did all of that escape official attention earlier?”

Workplace safety is guaranteed under Pakistan’s Constitution, but labor leaders say that government oversight has crumbled rapidly in recent years, along with a general decline in governance.

Sharafat Ali of the Pakistan Institute of Labor Education and Research, a labor rights group, said that 151 workers died in accidents in 2011. The state was partly responsible for the deaths, he said, because its civil servants “silently and criminally allow violation of laws and regulations established to ensure health and safety provisions at work.”

Waqar Gillani contributed reporting from Lahore, Pakistan.


After the Death the Doctor

Grieving relative of Bhoja crash (Credit: news.kuwaitimes.net)

ISLAMABAD, April 23: The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on Monday began an inspection of all passenger planes operated by private airlines after a near-miss in Karachi that came just two days after a fatal crash in Islamabad.

The checks were ordered on Sunday after a Shaheen Air flight with 178 people on board narrowly avoided disaster when its left rear tyre burst after its landing gear broke as it touched down at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi.

On Friday, a Bhoja Air Boeing 737 came down in fields near Islamabad as it tried to land, killing all 127 people on board – Islamabad’s second major crash in less than two years.

“The CAA launched a comprehensive inspection of airplanes being flown by private airlines, from today,” CAA spokesman Pervez George told AFP.

The CAA has already received a plane from Bhoja Air for so-called “shakedown” checks by engineers, George said.

He refused to give any timeline for completion of the process, saying “it is difficult to say how much time the inspectors will take to examine each plane and all its systems”.

“We have asked all the private airlines to reschedule their domestic and international flights during the inspection so the passengers do not have to suffer,” he added.

Inspection work will begin with Bhoja Air planes before moving on to Shaheen Air International and Airblue.

George said planes from the national flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) had shakedown checks a few months ago and would not be subject to the special inspection.

Another Shaheen flight with more than 100 passengers bound for the Iranian city of Mashhad was prevented from taking off at Lahore on Sunday after a fuel overflow during refuelling, George said.

In July 2010 an Airbus jet operated by Airblue crashed into the hills overlooking Islamabad while coming in to land after a flight from Karachi, killing 152 people in the worst air disaster ever on Pakistani soil.


Credit: telegraph.co.uk

Lahore, Feb 4: A security guard pointing a gun at your chest may not be a perk of first-class travel in the West, but it’s all part of the service on Pakistan’s gleaming Business Express.

Thirteen carriages have been lovingly restored into a sleek sleeper to ply the 1,200 kilometres between Pakistan’s two biggest cities, Lahore and Karachi, on an 18-hour journey that once used to take upwards of 30 hours.

Presided over Friday by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, perhaps keen to front a good-news story as he faces contempt charges, and waved off by excited crowds it is Pakistan’s most luxurious and expensive train.

For 5,000 rupees one way, or 9,000 rupees return, passengers are waited on by a bevy of attentive stewards, as they settle down to watch films on flat-screen TVs or power up laptops.

Afternoon tea and piping hot dinner — courtesy of chefs at five-star hotels are borne into cabins as uniformed guards carrying rifles in the corridors are a reminder of a country troubled by kidnappings, Taliban and Al-Qaeda violence.

Then as night falls, stewards come round with crisp bed linen to turn slightly hard green bunks into inviting beds.

It’s all part of a first private investment of millions of rupees in the ailing state railways, billed as the last hope of preventing a much-loved relic of British rule from falling into ruin.

Corruption, mismanagement and neglect have driven Pakistan Railways to the brink.

Since Gilani’s government took power in 2008, the group has retired 104 of 204 trains in a country larger than Britain and Germany combined.

It relies on handouts of $2.8 million a month just to pay salaries and pensions, and faces expected losses of $390 million in the current fiscal year.

But the new train pulled away five minutes early and customers boarded from a brand-new business lounge at Lahore station. Decorated in tinsel, the engine then ground to a halt 10 minutes later to pick up more passengers.

Mariyam Imran, a strikingly beautiful young advisor for cosmetics firm L’Oreal, is delighted. A frequent traveller and terrified by a recent emergency landing on increasingly precarious state airline PIA, she is an avid convert.

“It’s beautiful. It’s relaxing, compared to the trains before. I’m so happy and very comfortable. The staff are good. It’s a marvellous train,” the 22-year-old young mother told AFP.

Travelling with her businessman husband, three-year-old daughter and sister-in-law they are heading to Karachi for a short break before returning to host a Valentine’s Day party at home in Lahore on February 14.

“I hate PIA. Oh my God, that emergency landing. Compared to the plane, this train is best. The service is very good.”

Gilani congratulated staff on what he called a “deluxe” and “state of the art” service that would serve as a trail blazer for future private-public partnerships capable of turning around Pakistan’s depressed economy.

“It’s a big, big initiative from the private sector, which we have welcomed with open arms,” Arif Azim, the chairman of Pakistan Railways, told AFP.

Years of decline saw customers flock to airlines and luxury coaches.

Azim hopes that if the Business Express, and a similar service to be rolled out on February 20 between Lahore, the textiles centre of Faisalabad and Karachi, are a success then investors will sink millions more into saving the railways.

“The sky’s the limit because we’re in a pretty bad shape. We need a totally new fleet. Seventy-five per cent of our wagons can be described as vintage,” he said.

Retired journalist Ishtiaq Ali is taking his young, second wife home after a two-week holiday to show her snow for the first time in Murree, a resort in Pakistan’s foot hills of the Himalayas.

“Oh my goodness, what the hell are you talking about,” he jokes when asked how the new train compares to the best rail services in the West.

“It’s impossible. There’s no education, there’s no security, there’s no insurance. In Pakistan, you can go outside and you can be held at gunpoint.”

It may not be a bullet train. It may not be the Orient Express, but his young wife smiles as she edges out of Lahore, speeding past clapped-out carriages shunted onto sidings.