Sunday October 01, 2023

Workers protest against wage theft by int’l company

By Our Correspondent
June 01, 2023

LAHORE:Labour rights organisations, trade unions and Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) Pakistan organised a demonstration at Qainchi, Ferozepur Road against the alleged wage by a multi-national company. The demonstration aimed to protest against the wage theft and labour rights violations committed by a multi-national firm in their factories located in Pakistan. A large number of workers, progressive groups and trade union representatives attended the protest.Muttahida Labour Federation (MLF) and Pakistan Textile Powerloom Workers Federation (PTPWF) also delivered a letter to the Labour Director, urging an investigation into the foreign company’s supplier factories.

A joint press release issued Wednesday by Asia Floor Wage Alliance Pakistan; National Textile, Garments and Leather Workers’ Federation; Muttahida Labour Federation (MLF); Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER); Labour Education Foundation (LEF) and HomeNet Pakistan have demanded an end to wage theft in the industry.

A global sportswear and athletic footwear giant is under fire for grave accusations of wage theft in its supplier factories located in Pakistan.Startling revelations from an investigation conducted by AFWA and an international labour rights forum Global Labour Justice (GLJ) shed light on the exploitation endured by workers in textile factories both listed as suppliers in 2020 and in the current Manufacturing Map 2023. The investigation unveiled a deeply concerning scale of wage theft and the dire consequences faced by the workers. In a textile factory located in City employing 4,500 workers, a sample interview with 12 workers exposed alarming statistics. The pre-pandemic projected monthly average wage of Rs22,250 (USD 138) nosedived to an actual average wage of Rs18,542 (USD 115) during the pandemic, resulting in an average wage loss of 17%. To compound matters, all workers were laid off without any wages during the critical months of April and May 2020, accounting for full wage loss experienced by the workforce.

“Amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, while garment workers faced shrinking incomes, wage theft and vanishing savings, big fashion brands showered their billionaire owners and Wall Street investors with record dividends and massive stock buybacks. The foreign company must be held responsible for the unresolved COVID wage violations on their supply chain and its persistent exploitation of garment workers. A multi-national company raked in over $74m in dividends, hundreds of garment workers were left jobless and struggling to make both ends meet.

“The report by AFWA and GLJ-ILRF exposes the disturbing reality of big fashion industry and its investors profiting immensely while exploiting the plight of garment workers during the COVID crisis,” said Country Coordinator of Pakistan at AFWA Aabida Ali.

A comparison of basic needs expenditure from January to February 2020 reveals that pre-pandemic wages covered 116% of their expenses. However, due to the wage theft during the pandemic, the income coverage for basic needs plummeted to a precarious 96%.

Textile Power Loom and Garment Workers’ Federation Gen Secy Niaz Khan said, “The survey revealed the devastating impact of ruthless brand decisions to cut their losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, causing a domino effect on garment workers.

In the absence of severance pay for 80% of those who were laid off during this time, workers were forced to incur debt to finance basic needs and returning workers were refused legal pay for their overtime work. In an industry where over 90% of the workforce is female, these instances of wage theft resulted in a widening gender pay gap with women earning 4 cents less than men.”

MLF’s Hanif Ramay added that similar alarming patterns emerged in a textile firm also located in Lahore where 3,000 workers are employed. The pre-pandemic projected monthly average wage of PKR 21,565 (USD 134) plunged to an actual average of PKR 17,971 (USD 112) in 2020, reflecting a distressing 17% average wage loss. Workers in the mill also suffered from unjustified layoffs without pay during the crucial months of April and May, without any compensation for their lost wages. Additionally, all workers reported receiving normal hourly rates for overtime work, contrary to the legal requirement of double payment. This highlights the urgent need for global fashion brands who profited enough to repay workers’ wages 2,000 times over, to take responsibility for the workers in their supply chain.The report titled ‘Money Heist and Big Fashion: Wall Street Cash-in on Wage Theft,’ by AFWA presents compelling arguments and extensive evidence of wage theft prevalent in the global fashion industry. It emphasises the urgent need for swift action and accountability to ensure fair wages for the workers who tirelessly contribute to the profitability of multinational corporations.

As a prominent player in the industry, the multi-national must promptly assume responsibility for the wage theft allegations plaguing its supplier factories. We hereby call upon the foreign company to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the wage theft practices at the textile units, ensuring utmost transparency and accountability; immediately rectify the wage discrepancies and provide compensation for the lost wages to all affected workers. The foreign company should temporarily halt billionaire payouts from dividends and stock paybacks until all garment workers are rightfully repaid their wage losses.