Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2018, 20:36 GMT

2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Pakistan

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Pakistan, 6 June 2012, available at: [accessed 18 January 2018]
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: 173,593,000
Capital: Islamabad

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))

Reported Violations – 2012

Murders: 1
Threats: 50
Injuries: 45
Arrests: 213
Imprisonments: 6
Dismissals: 153

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


Trade union rights are not fully guaranteed in law at the federal or provincial level. In practice, trade union rights are also 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. Pakistan was found to be the deadliest nation for journalists with at least seven deaths. Precarious work and increasing privatisation were major causes of industrial action in 2011.


Political instability and violence continues as major elections are planned for 2012. Protests occurred throughout the year.

An estimated 84% of Pakistan's population live under the poverty line. A food price hike of over 10% in the first few months of 2011 – with the price of wheat rising by 10% and the price of rice by 13.1% – has pushed another 6.94 million Pakistanis into poverty this year.

Trade union rights in law

On 30 April 2010, the Industrial Relations Act of 2008 expired, reviving the much-criticised Industrial Relations Ordinance of 1969. Further, pursuant to the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, matters involving industrial relations devolved to the provinces. A subsequent ruling by the Supreme Court on 2 June 2011 abolished the role of the National Industrial Relations Commission because the relevant federal legislation no longer existed. Thus, national, industry-wide trade unions could no longer exist. As a stop-gap measure, all four provincial governments enacted Provincial Industrial Relations Acts. The legal vacuum at the federal level was filled in by the promulgation of the Industrial Relations Ordinance 2011. However, this law lapsed after 120 days. The law was extended by a National Assembly Resolution on 17 November, 2011. This extension is set to expire on 17 March, 2012.

However, the IRO of 2011 contains many of the same flaws noted with the IRO of 2008. These include the exclusion of several classes of workers from the scope of application, a requirement that only trade unions of workers engaged in the same industry may be registered, prohibits trade unions from registering if there are already two or more unions in the establishment, group of establishments or industry in which the trade union is connected unless it has more than 20% of the workers in the establishment, group of establishments or industry, the right to dues check off and to call a strike a reserved only for the most representative trade union, and several impermissible requirements for holding union office, among others.

A trade union cannot bargain collectively unless it has over 30% of the employees as its members. The law also provides that where such a single trade union does not have 30%, various other forms of worker participation, such as works councils and joint management boards, could seriously undermine the trade union.

As to the right to strike, under the IRO 2011, go-slow actions are consider an unfair labour practice, strikes longer than 30 days can be prohibited by government order, and a party or the government can unilaterally compel arbitration, undermining the right to strike.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Violence, arrests in demonstrations and strikes:

Strikes 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.

On 11 January, police and paramilitaries attacked a peaceful protest organised by workers Karachi Airport, injuring many and arresting union leaders.

Two were injured when police used batons and teargas to stop low-paid contract employees of provincial education department in Karachi on 18 February. At least 12 were arrested.

In March, batons and tear-gas were used against a demonstration by female health workers in Sindh province. Around 36 of the protestors were said to have been arrested.

At least eight doctors were injured and 50 arrested during a demonstration in Quetta on 14 June.

In July, extra troops were deployed to disperse mass protests in Karachi. At least 65 people were killed.

Anti-union discrimination: Employers often strongly resist the unionisation of their employees, resorting to intimidation, dismissal and blacklisting. Managers at the Reko Diq project of Tethyan Copper Co. suspended 12 union activists in April, while the General Secretary of the Syngenta Employees Union Pakistan was sacked on 22 December.

Continued danger to journalists: Six journalists were killed in Pakistan during the first seven months of the year. Mohammad Rafique Baloch, a senior journalist and vice-president of the Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) was on his way to the Sindh High Court, in Karachi on March when he was kidnapped, beaten and later released. In May, senior journalist Nasrullah Afridi and member of the Tribal Union of Journalists (TUJ) was murdered in Peshawar. Provincial authorities had failed to provide him with security despite being aware of threats to his life. In May, the body of journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad was found. Reports suggest that Shahzad was detained by members of the intelligence arm of the Pakistan military, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Shahzad had reported receiving threats from ISI members.

High level of informal and casual labour undermining union rights: Many employees work in the informal sector, which is characterised by insecure employment, harsh working conditions and absence of social protections. Labour in the informal sector is typically employed on a temporary, casual and contractual basis and can be retrenched at any time without any legal barriers. Informal sector labour is unable to organise in unions or lawfully challenge violations of occupational health and safety. Much of the country's informal labour force works from home and are generally vulnerable to exploitation. This is a particular problem for women, since around 65% of the country's estimated 8.52 million home-based workers are female.

Labour Victories:

The president of the Lucky Cement Factory Workers Union was released from prison on 15 January. He was one of five union leaders who had been arrested in September 2010 and released in November 2010 only to have been arrested again. The judge ruled that the district coordination officer had detained him unlawfully under Section 3 of the Maintenance of Public Order.

In the long-running Pearl Continental case, the provincial Labour Court ordered on 26 February that 20 union members and officers be reinstated, almost nine years after they had been sacked. Two of the union members had been sacked for absenteeism in March 2002 while they were illegally jailed. It was alleged that they had committed criminal acts but in 2009 the cases against them were dismissed. A decision is still pending in the case of 11 other union members dismissed in June 2002.

Three members of the Employees Old Benefit Institution (EOBI) trade union who had been sacked were reinstated on 10 June by court order. They had been fired on charges of maligning the chairman and other senior officials of the EOBI through complaints to senior staff and the media.

Continued danger to workers at the Gadani Ship breaking yards: An International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF) report highlighted the continued danger to workers at the Gadani Ship breaking yards and ongoing obstacles to union organising at the shipyards. Despite an agreement in 2009, over the provision of safety gear, the death toll from work related injuries keeps on rising and employers in the yard are violating the basic law on occupational health and safety.

Bonded debt labour is common: Estimates of victims of bonded labour vary widely but the total, combined with those in forced marriages and women who are traded between tribal groups to settle disputes or as payment, is thought to exceed one million.


Syngenta Union Leader dismissed:

On 23 December 2010, Imran Ali, the General Secretary of the Employees Union of the Swiss-based agri-chemicals multinational, Syngenta, affiliated to the Pakistan Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers (PCEM) – an International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unio (ICEM) affiliate – was sacked without notice after reportedly refusing to stop trade union activities. The union was due to submit a draft collective agreement which would have been effective as of 1 January 2011.

On the same day, some 50 contract workers who had filed a case for permanent worker status were threatened by Syngenta's security chief. On 18 December, the labour court decided in their favour, entitling them to permanent employment immediately. Syngenta Pakistan management refused to acknowledge the judgement.

On 28 December, paramilitary forces were called to the company. Throughout January, the company refused to reinstate Imran.

Contract workers dismissed after strike:

Efforts by employers to force workers to accept short-term contracts led to industrial action at the Karachi Electric Supply Company during the first half of the year. Meanwhile, at least 35 contract workers demanding their rights at Nestlé's dairy factory in Kabirwala lost their jobs and many were jailed on fabricated charges as management sought to criminalise the union's struggle in support of permanent jobs for contract workers.

According to workers, the police investigation found the charges false and they were released on bail after two days in jail. On 27 July, the labour court directed management to reinstate all dismissed workers but management refused to accept the court order.

Airline staff beaten during strike: In February, members of the People's Unity of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Employees Union and the Pakistan Airline Pilots' Association (PALPA), who work for Pakistan International Airlines, protested after the airline suspended five pilots and put 70 other workers on compulsory leave when they complained over new code share agreements with Turkish Airlines. On 9 February, protesting workers were beaten by police and paramilitary forces. These clashes also injured two women and several members of the media.People's Unity called a strike call after the PIA Collective Bargaining Agent President was shot dead in a drive-by shooting on 9 July.

Striking junior Doctors injured and detained: Junior doctors went on a nationwide strike in March to protest low pay and long working hours. Further action was taken in July after the government failed to honour its commitments with respect to revision of pay scales and regularisation of doctors working on a contract basis. The government responded with an ultimatum threatening dismissal and applied to the High court to declare the strike illegal. In June, at least 50 doctors were arrested and 8 wounded after police baton-charged a march of striking doctors in Balochistan.

Union agreement ignored and unionists dismissed: In April, despite a pledge by Tethyan Copper Company managers (TCC – a joint venture copper-gold project owned by Barrick Gold of Canada and Antofagasta Ltd. of the UK) to negotiate with the All Pakistan Labour Federation (APLF) and the TCC union over working conditions, management refused to do so. The parties had agreed to continue talks after workers suspended a hunger strike in front of the company's offices, during which 12 workers were dismissed. Management reneged on reinstating five of the 12 union activists, and then on 14 April sacked four TCC Employees' Union leaders, including President Ghulam Hayder Baloch and Chairman Mazir Ahmad Baloch.

Use of anti-terrorism legislation against textile unionists in Faisalabad:

More than 100,000 textile and garment workers went on strike in July in Faisalabad to secure a 17% pay increase that had been passed by the government but which employers refused to pay. In November, the Anti Terrorism Court sentenced six trade union leaders involved in the strike to a total of 490 years in jail on what the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF) has described as falsified charges. The six are leaders of the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM) in Faisalabad.

The ITGLWF strongly condemned the brutal campaign waged by employers on workers and unions in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Workers were attacked by armed men employed by factory owners. Some have been shot while others have been badly beaten. Textile factory owners and henchmen resorted to violence by throwing stones and bricks on a peaceful march of workers, while police used tear gas. Twenty-five workers were injured including Mr. Tahir Rana, the president of LQM Faisalabad district, who was critically injured. Around 100 workers were also arrested.

Protests against power company privatisation:

Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) Hydro-Electric Central Labour Union held nationwide protests against the privatization of power distributing companies in 2011. In January, workers ended a sit-in outside the offices of the newly privatised Karachi Electric Supply Company protesting the sacking of 4,300 workers following earlier protests over redundancy payments. The workers were reinstated.

On 2 November, Wapda, Lahore Electricity Supply Company and Pakistan Electric Power Company employees demonstrated against the proposed power generation company's privatisation in the cities of Peshawar, Faislabad, Lalamusa, Okara, Sukkur and Hyderabad. Scores of workers were sacked for alleged act of sabotage.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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