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PAKISTAN

Factory fire firm offers less than €1,500 a death

German discount clothing firm Kik, which was the main contractor at a Pakistani factory where more than 259 people died in a fire last month, has set up a fund for the victims – offering less than €1,500 per dead worker.

Factory fire firm offers less than €1,500 a death
Kik manager Michael Arretz. Photo: DPA

The firm only admitted having a connection with the disaster after non-governmental organisations revealed it was an important contractor for Ali Enterprises, which ran the factory.

Kik stocked its shops on high streets across Germany with €15.99-a-pair jeans made at the Karachi factory, where around 1,500 people worked across three storeys with just four exits and a serious lack of basic safety measures.

It burned to the ground in early September, killing more than 259 workers who were trapped inside and leaving their families destitute.

After Kik was named as a potential customer, it emerged that the company was actually the major contractor of Ali Enterprises, Der Spiegel reported on Tuesday.

Kik has admitted issuing 75 percent of the firm’s contracts, while workers at Ali Enterprises say “at least 90 percent” of their work was for the German discounter, the magazine said.

And although Kik has put $500,000 into a compensation fund for the families of those who died, this has attracted condemnation from Pakistani trades unions – it works out to $1,930 or less then €1,500, for each person who died.

“That is damn little,” said Nasir Mansoor from the Pakistani association of trades unions NTUF. “And we also don’t know when and via whom the payments will be made.”

He said if the money on offer is not increased, relatives and survivors would sue Kik.

Kik manager Michael Arretz has been trying to improve the firm’s image over the last couple of years, Der Spiegel said.

He has made assurances that the compensation fund would go to families, particularly those affected who had not been given any support by the Pakistani government, which has promised around €5,500 to those who lost relatives.

Many families have complained they have received nothing, while those who have been given cheques say they either bounce – or that they do not have bank accounts in which to cash them.

There remains confusion about how many people actually died in the fire – with 63 still registered as missing, trades unions say more than 300 died. Twenty-nine bodies remain unidentified.

Arretz told Der Spiegel he had had difficulty organising the payments as the company did not have a suitable agent on the ground, but that there was now someone in place.

The unions in Karachi say Kik knew about the terrible safety standards at the factory, including blocked escape routes and sealed windows. Many of the people working there had no contracts, making it difficult for those who were hurt in the fire – and those whose relatives perished – to prove they were there.

The Local/hc

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RETAIL

German Amazon workers strike on ‘Black Friday’

Amazon workers in Germany started a three-day strike Thursday timed to disrupt the online retailer's "Black Friday" sales bonanza.

German Amazon workers strike on 'Black Friday'
Signs for the Amazon strike in Leipzig. Photo: DPA

The strike, called by the powerful Verdi union, is set to last until Saturday and marks the latest escalation in a years-long battle with Amazon for better pay and working conditions.

“We estimate that around 2,500 people went on strike today, a higher number than in similar actions in the past and given the difficult circumstances caused by the pandemic, it's a big success,” a Verdi spokesman told AFP.

To limit the risk of Covid-19 infections, the union said it was not staging any rallies during the strike.

Amazon in a statement said the walkouts were not affecting customer deliveries since “the majority of employees are working as normal”.

The stoppage affected Amazon distribution facilities in Leipzig, Bad Hersfeld, Augsburg, Rheinberg, Werne and Koblenz.

Verdi has long wanted Amazon to sign on to regional wage agreements covering retail and e-commerce, and has organised numerous walkouts in recent years.

It also wants Amazon to improve health and safety at work, accusing the retail giant of not doing enough to protect staff from the coronavirus at some of its German sites.

Amazon defended its policies, saying it offered “excellent” wages, benefits and career opportunities in a “modern, safe” work environment.

The company employs more than 16,000 people in Germany and has taken on an additional 10,000 seasonal employees to cope with a boom in online shopping triggered by the pandemic.

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