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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Pakistan

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Pakistan, 8 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ea661ed37.html [accessed 2 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 180,800,000
Capital: Islamabad
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111

The right to strike is circumscribed by excessive restrictions, and many workers enjoy limited trade union rights. In practice, trade union rights are often violated. Several trade union activists were arrested, beaten, detained or discriminated against during the year, while at least one was murdered. Private employers often refuse to recognise unions and commonly use union-busting tactics along with police violence.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN LAW

The labour law situation in Pakistan was brought into a limbo on 30 April 2010 after the Government enacted the 18th Constitutional Amendment, which transferred the responsibility in labour matters from federal to provincial governments. In addition, in June the High Court of Sindh (Karachi) confirmed that with the enactment of the amendment the Industrial Relations Act 2008 was repealed and that the Industrial Relations Ordinance 1969 was now again in force. As a result the provinces enacted interim Industrial Relations laws.

The Constitution guarantees freedom of association, but many workers are denied this right by virtue of the 1969 Ordinance, including forestry, railway and hospital workers as well as some public servants. Union activities are hampered by the requirement that any gathering of more than four people is subject to police authorisation. The Registrar also retains wide powers to inspect the accounts and records of registered trade unions.

While the right to collective bargaining is recognised, employees of state administration, government services and state enterprises – all of which are covered by the 1952 Essential Services Maintenance Act – are not allowed to bargain, nor are workers in EPZs. Workers covered by the 1952 Act are also excluded from the right to strike, and with the re-entry into force of the 1969 Ordinance, the Government can issue orders to prohibit strikes in any public utility service.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN PRACTICE AND VIOLATIONS IN 2010

Background: Floods in July devastated practically the whole of the country. Over 20 million people were affected, and a reported 80% of the country's food reserves were destroyed, further weakening an economy that had been hard hit by the economic crisis. Poverty has continued to rise along with prices of basic foodstuffs, and there has reportedly been a rise in child labour. Missile attacks and suicide bombers continued to kill and injure innocent civilians – Pakistani authorities said at least 21 attacks by U.S. drones in the northwest killed about 120 in September alone. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) also reported that the period 2009-2010 was the worst in the history of Pakistani journalism, since as many as 21 journalists lost their lives and more than 45 were wounded at the hands of terrorists and bombs.

Weak labour law enforcement by local governments: The Factories Act of 1934 provides for inspection of enterprises, but this authority has been increasingly devolved to provincial and lower level governments with the net result that labour inspections are hardly ever performed, and that employers are able to violate key provisions of the law on wages and conditions of work with impunity.

Employers circumvent legislation: Employers often strongly resist the unionisation of their employees, with management resorting to intimidation, dismissal and blacklisting. If an employer is opposed to the formation of a union, the procedure for union registration and the appeals process can take many years. Sometimes the employers artificially promote workers to managerial status, usually without the concomitant salary increase, so that they no longer qualify for union membership. The economic crisis resulted in an increasing numbers of businesses ignoring the law with the sometimes overt support of the authorities. This has led to reduced wages and benefits as well as weaker rights, since workers are more afraid to claim their rights in case they lose their jobs.

Strikes: illegal and dangerous: The strikes that do occur are, given the complications attached to organising a strike, usually illegal and short. They are often broken up by police and used by employers to justify dismissals. Union leaders are often arrested. Marches and protests also occur regularly despite the repercussions.

For example in September, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) pilots from the Pakistan Airline Pilots' Association (PALPA) began a work-to-rule action as part of a demand to ensure that safety measures were adhered to and that overwork was reduced. The government then invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act 1958, often used to intimidate workers and to prevent industrial action in the name of ensuring that essential services are maintained. One month later, on 25 October, PIA management dismissed two senior pilots, one of whom was previously the union's joint secretary, reportedly without any notice or hearing for their part in the action.

Anti-union discrimination in banks: In recent years, hundreds of trade union leaders have been dismissed under the terms of the Banking Companies (Amendment) Act, 1997. In 2009 in an effort to lift the restrictions on trade union activities in banks, the Deputy Secretary General of the Pakistan Peoples Party filed a private members bill against the legislation.

Unionists at Pearl Continental dismissed: Four elected union leaders at the Pearl Continental Hotel in Karachi were illegally dismissed in February. Together with some 200 union members the dismissed officers remained in the hotel basement, and several went on hunger strike. Union members and supporters maintained a vigil outside the hotel, refusing to leave until the dismissals were withdrawn and negotiations begun. On March 1, police assaulted and detained some of the supporters outside the hotel – they were later released following a protest action outside the prison. Workers from the Pearl Continental union in Rawalpindi held regular daily rallies and boycotted meals in the workplace in solidarity with the Karachi struggle.

On 20 March workers ended their occupation after a representative of the hotel's owner directly intervened in the conflict for the first time ever and agreed to reinstate the four union officers. One of the ill hunger strikers and three other union members were hospitalised. The workers of the Pearl Continental Hotel in Karachi have been fighting for over seven years for recognition of their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Workers have been dismissed and detained as a result of the struggle, and the ILO has called for a full investigation into the abuses against unionists.

Union vice-president kidnapped and tortured for protest: The Mari Gas trade union hung banners at the company premises calling for the regularisation of workers and an end to contract work. Administrative officers and contractors asked Usman Mahar, vice-president of the Mari Gas trade union, to remove the banners, but he refused. After the protests, on 9 March, as he was returning home, five masked men in a car stopped him, shoved him into the car, blind-folded him and drove away. He was allegedly taken to an undisclosed place and tortured. The men threatened to kill him if he did not withdraw the demands for the regularisation of contracts. He was kept for two days until 11 March when the kidnappers ran into the police as they were changing hideout. After an exchange of fire, they fled leaving him behind.

Usman has since filed an official complaint against several persons at the company, but the police has not yet taken any action. An accused contractor stated that Usman had made the kidnapping up to protect his job.

Gadani ship breaking workers strike: On 16 June 2010 some 15,000 workers in the Gadani shipyards went on strike over appalling working conditions, low wages and difficult working hours. The workers belonged to the Gadani Ship Breaking Democratic Workers' Union, which had been deregistered by the Labour Commissioner – a move which the union is contesting in court. The ship breaking workers then formed the Progressive Workers' Union of Gadani Ship Breaking. The Gadani employers, with the help of local police and the AntiTerrorist Task Force (ATTF), arrested the Progressive Workers Union of Gadani Ship Breaking President Bashir Mehmood Dani and the other officers when the strike began on 16 June. They were released without charge after workers held a protest and management agreed to negotiate with the union. However, management had also agreed to meet the workers' demands by 30 June 2010 in return for the union calling off its strike on June 17 but failed to follow through. The ship breaking workers then went on another strike from 5-7 July. In response to this strike, the employers again agreed to start negotiations with the union and the district court.

Coca-Cola union finally recognised: A 25 July 2010 agreement negotiated between the International Union of Foodworkers and Coca-Cola successfully resolved a long and bitter conflict over employment and trade union rights at Coca-Cola Beverages Pakistan. Under the agreement, all unfairly dismissed workers were to be reinstated with full compensation. The company recognised the People's Employees' Union (PEU) and guaranteed that there would be no harassment or victimisation of union members and officers. 187 workers with precarious jobs were converted into permanent employees. Two weeks after the agreement a new union at Coca-Cola Pakistan's Faisalabad plant was also recognised, marking another breakthrough.

Since forming the union in the Mulatan Plant in 2009, members had been met with death threats, harassment, abduction and dismissals.

Telecom unions under attack: In April 2006 Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) was taken over. Under an agreement all 61,000 PTCL workers were to have their wages increased, and there were promises of no layoffs. However, since then over 35,000 workers have lost their jobs, and the pay rise was never implemented. Since 2 August 2010, PTCL unions held nationwide strikes for two hours each day in order to press for the wage increase, and on 16 August this was increased to a total strike. PTCL management offered a 30% wage increase with another 20% increase linked to worker productivity by December 2010, but this offer was refused.

On 3 September, after 17 days of striking, union leaders met the Federal Minister of Labour and asked him to intervene. They were told that within three days the main demand – a 50% wage increase – would be met. However, that evening hundreds of policemen attacked the strike camp. It was reported that the police were bribed and that one police superintendent told officers involved that injuries should be severe enough so no one would be able to walk to jail. Over 50 strikers were arrested, with three central leaders charged under antiterrorist laws and 35 others under 7ATA (Anti Terrorist Act). The arrests continued for the next 24 hours as homes were raided. As a condition for receiving their wages, PTCL workers were forced to sign a statement disassociating themselves from the strike. Over 250 workers were fired.

Since the September crackdown management has stopped annual bonuses for over 2,000 employees and has refused to pay wages to more than 500 others. The Secretary General of Pakistan Telecom Employees Union and several other leading unionists were unlawfully dismissed and some 250 more fired. The National Industrial Relation Commission suspended the termination orders, but management has not accepted the reversal.

Textile leader shot dead during strike: Mustansar Randhawa, founder of the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM) for loom workers and President of the National Trade union Federation in Faisalabad, was shot dead on 6 August by two unknown people while in the union offices. His older brother Naseer Randhawa, an active member of the LQM, was also killed. Mustansar Randhawa had been receiving death threats from loom and textile mill owners since the LQM announced a strike in the textile sector on 6 July. The strike was called off after last minute negotiations. The negotiations were due to begin again when the news of the murders came.

Most loom workers work 10 to 12 hour days for less than the minimum wage and without benefits, and many have reported victimisation in the form of beatings, extortion and fabricated cases. The aggressors reportedly operate on the estate grounds with impunity and claim the patronage of the mill owners. Mustansar Randhawa had spoken of being threatened and intimidated by mill owners and their supporters during the past few years.

After the death of the two men, some 200,000 workers went on strike and picketed the offices of the Commissioner until it was announced that the strike for a 17% wage increase and social security coverage had been successful and that their demands were to be met. In addition, four workers who were detained during the strike were released without charges.

Dalit cotton picker tortured to death, sparking protests: On 16 November, Roop Chand Bheel, a Bheel (Dalit) cotton picker, was tortured and then set on fire at the instigation of a landlord. He was accused of stealing 25kg cotton. He later died in hospital after struggling with his life for four days. Scores of Bheel (Hindu Dalit) community people carrying his body held a demonstration outside the press club while others protested at the police office demanding the arrest of the landlord. Police have reportedly arrested three men but not the landlord due to his reported influence.

Over 60% of the workforce is engaged in cotton sector, but agricultural workers including cotton workers are not recognised as workers by the labour law. As such they do not have the right to form a union and negotiate collectively, nor do they have the right to appeal to labour courts in disputes.

Bonded and forced labour continues, kiln workers protest: Estimates state that between 750,000 and 900,000 people from 200,000 families work in Pakistan's 11,000 brick kilns (bhatta). This number includes some 250,000 children, or around two-thirds of all working children in the Pakistan. Many children work alongside their families to pay off debts that are so much beyond their means that they will remain unpaid even after decades of continuous work. Employers advance money to workers who cannot leave until they repay the whole amount, and most workers are illiterate and do not know how much money is being repaid. The employers take advantage of this and also impose many "fines" on the workers. The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act of 1992 defines this as bonded labour. Efforts to halt this practice have failed to make an impact, as only less than 6,000 bonded labourers have been freed and thousands remain working in appalling camps.

In September 2010, dozens of brick kiln labourers staged a protest in Islamabad. Their leader Inayatullah, president of All Pakistan Bhatta Labour Union, said that the minimum wage of PKR 517 for every 1,000 prepared bricks was not prevalent in brick kilns in Punjab.

Merck workers continue to face difficulties: On May Day 2010 the Pakistan Workers' Federation and the Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign in Quetta protested the 2009 sacking of 265 workers from Merck Serono Quetta who were dismissed for protesting against low wages and other issues. The May Day protest continued until the evening when a representative of the Balochistan government came to negotiate with the workers and promised that the 265 workers would be reinstated soon. By the end of the year this had not yet happened.

Since 2009 workers have been holding protests and several have been on hunger strike. During the protests, workers have been detained and questioned. Criminal charges have also been brought against union officials.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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