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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Pakistan

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Pakistan, 11 June 2009, available at: [accessed 18 October 2017]
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: 163,900,000
Capital: Islamabad
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Although the new Industrial Relations Act adopted in 2008 does represent progress, it remains partially at odds with international standards. Restrictions on freedom of association remain in many sectors. Legal barriers prevent the effective exercise of the right to strike.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: The Constitution of Pakistan states that "Every citizen shall have the right to form associations or unions, subject to any reasonable restriction imposed by law". In this regard, a new Industrial Relations Act was adopted in 2008 repealing the Industrial Relations Ordinance (IRO) 2002. It is an interim law that will lapse on 30 April 2010. While some of the provisions of this law are progressive in relation to previous legislation, others run counter to ILO Conventions 87 and 98.

Many sectors are still excluded from the right to organise, including services connected with the armed forces; persons employed by the State administration other than those employed by the railways and the post; the security staff of Pakistan International Airlines; employees of the Pakistan Security Printing Corporation or the Security Papers Limited; employees of the public administration in charge of treatment or care of sick persons; and members of the security or fire service of an oil refinery or an establishment engaged in the production or distribution of gas. Supervisory and managerial personnel are also excluded as well as agricultural workers, workers employed in the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC) and workers in export processing zones. According to the Civil Servants Act, 1973, civil servants are allowed to establish associations but not to form or join trade unions.

According to the new law, the Registrar of Trade Unions can no longer cancel a union's registration. However, the Registrar retains wide powers to inspect the accounts and records of the registered trade unions.

Collective bargaining: Unions generally have the right to bargain collectively, with the notable exceptions of civil servants, workers in export processing zones and the other categories of workers excluded from the right to organise. Employees of the State administration, government services, state enterprises such as oil and gas production, electricity generation and transmission, and the state-owned airline and ports – all of which are covered by the 1952 Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) – are not allowed to bargain collectively.

Workers may elect their representatives to act as collective bargaining agents. When there is only one trade union in an establishment or group of establishments, the union can be recognised as a collective bargaining agent if it affiliates no fewer than one-third of the total number of workers employed. Where there is more than one trade union, workers may elect, by secret ballot, a registered trade union to act as their collective bargaining agent.

Right to strike: Legal obstacles to the right to strike remain in the new Act. It takes at least one month before a strike can be legally declared, and the federal government has wide powers to prohibit a strike if it lasts for more than thirty days causing "serious hardship to the community" or is "prejudicial to the national interest". In the case of public utility services, strikes may be prohibited at any time before or after the commencement of the strike.

The new Act (as the previous one) does not provide any clarity regarding the right to strike in response to problems raised by major social and economic policy trends and as to whether workers may conduct sympathy strikes without penalty. Workers in export processing zones are deprived of the right to strike as are workers covered by the ESMA. A one-year prison term is foreseen for anyone who contravenes the ban established by this law.

Based on the Anti-Terrorist Ordinance 1999, illegal strikes, go-slow actions and picketing are still considered as forms of "civil commotion", which carry a penalty of imprisonment for terms ranging from seven years to life, as well as fines. Moreover, section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure makes any gathering of more than four people subject to police authorisation. Hence, it can easily be used against any trade union gathering.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: The February elections brought the return of a civilian government after General Musharraf's nine years in power. The protection of civil rights and policies has improved since then, but still falls far short of the standards of a democracy. Poverty has continued to rise, as has insecurity. The population has also been suffering fallout from the war in Afghanistan. Bomb attacks and armed combat caused at least 843 civilian deaths in 2008.

Employers circumvent legislation: Employers sometimes artificially promote workers to managerial status, usually without the concomitant salary increase, so that they no longer qualify for union membership. Employers often strongly resist the unionisation of their employees, with management resorting to intimidation, dismissal and blacklisting. Moreover, if an employer is opposed to the formation of a union, the procedures for union registration and the appeals process can take many years.

Strikes: The rare 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. On 30 July, for instance, union leaders and activists were meeting in front of the Naveena textile factory to insist that the management pay the minimum wage and respect international labour standards. Witnesses reported that the police attacked the peaceful demonstrators with truncheons and tear gas to disperse them. They also arrested and briefly detained six workers, including union leaders, whilst 300 workers were locked out.

Weak labour law enforcement by state governments: The Factories Act of 1934 provides for inspection of enterprises, but this authority has been increasingly assumed by state governments. Unionists report that the net result has been that labour inspections are hardly ever performed, and the employers are therefore able to violate key provisions of the law on wages and conditions of work with impunity. In October, the Punjab Minister for Labour and Human Resources had assured industrialists that visits of the labour department to industries had been banned, but that if they were required, they would be conducted jointly with employers' representatives.

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. The United Bank Employees' Federation believes this is an attempt to undermine its very existence. In 2008, the Pakistan Workers' Federation, an ITUC affiliate, reported some reprisals against trade unionists by the National Bank of Pakistan.

Unilever steps up its anti-union action by using short-term employment contracts: Unilever systematically employs temporary workers, who are not allowed to join the company's union and receive lower wages and benefits than permanent staff. According to the IUF, just 371 of the 8,000 people making Unilever products in Pakistan are employed directly by Unilever.

On 31 August, Unilever shut its Lipton Tea factory in Karachi and transferred the entire production to another site, where all the staff are employed on a temporary basis by subcontractors.

In addition, the attacks by the Unilever management on trade unions and union rights at its Rahim Yar Khan factory have intensified since the IUF's complaint to the OECD in 2007, in which it accused the company of violation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Companies. The complaint followed the dismissal of 287 of the 292 temporary employees at the factory after the union's announcement that it would be allowing temporary workers to join it and would help them obtain permanent employee status.

Dalda Foods, a subsidiary of Unilever Pakistan, opposed the registration of a union consisting of 430 workers that was duly registered with the competent authorities on 13 May. According to Dalda Foods, the workers had not been recruited by Dalda but by employment agencies. The company went on to sack 266 workers, including trade unionists, despite a court order barring it from doing so.

Pearl Continental Hotel refuses any dialogue with the unions: 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. The management has consistently refused to recognise the union formed in this hotel, which is a member of the "Pakistan Hotel, Restaurant, Clubs, Tourism, Catering and Allied Workers' Federation", an affiliate of the IUF. Many members and leaders of the union have been sacked, threatened, harassed and imprisoned. On 29 July, sacked union leaders and other dismissed workers were assaulted by the police when holding a peaceful protest in front of the hotel. They were arrested and then released thanks to pressure from the union members and supporters.

Mass dismissal of trade unionists in a construction company: PUT Sarajevo General Engineering Company, a construction company, sacked all the leaders and 32 other members of the Awami Labour Union (ALU) on 24 July, after the union had put forward a series of demands regarding the application of legislation. The company also brought in the police to deal with the protesting workers. Some of the protestors were arrested and subsequently released, following the intervention of the Punjab Minister for Labour and Human Resources. The General Secretary of the Pakistan Federation of Building and Woodworkers, to which ALU is affiliated, was threatened with physical violence by the company management.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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