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January 3, 2019

Dock workers threaten to shift protest camp to D-Chowk


January 3, 2019

Marking the 100th day of their sit-in outside the Karachi Press Club (KPC), Port Qasim’s dock workers on Wednesday threatened to shift their protest camp to D-Chowk, the place famous for prolonged sit-ins in front of Parliament House in Islamabad, if their issues were not resolved by January 10.

To show solidarity with the protesting workers of the country’s second largest seaport, several prominent trade unionists and rights activists visited the protest camp outside the KPC on the 100th day of the sit-in.

In a joint news conference, Hussain Badshah, the secretary general of the Workers Union of Port Qasim CBA, threatened to move to Islamabad’s D Chowk after launching the ‘Pakistan Trade Union March’ as a last resort, if the authorities concerned continued to ignore their demands.

Nasir Mansoor of the National Trade Union Federation, Habibuddin Junaidi of the Sindh Labour Solidarity Committee, Zehra Khan of the Home-Based Women Workers Federation, Liaqat Ali Sahi of the State Bank Democratic Worker Union (CBA) and other trade unionists accompanied Badshah during the press conference. They endorsed the demands of the protesting workers and assured them of their full support.

“Our different chapters will warmly receive members of this march in various cities and in Islamabad too. Our workers will also join this protest at D-Chowk,” Junaidi said. Since September 24, more than 1,700 dock workers – most of them elderly – have been sitting at their protest camp to pressure the government to resolve their issues. “It seems we have failed to grab attention of the federal government and officials of the ministry of ports and shipping even after 100 days of our peaceful protest,” said Badshah.

Later speaking to The News, Badshah recalled that Prime Minister Imran Khan directed that the protesting workers’ issues be immediately resolved after he took notice of their march towards Governor House on December 9, which attracted police action. “But all in vain and nothing changed,” he lamented.

The dock workers’ union secretary general said the workers had given an ultimatum to the federal government and the ministry to resolve their issues before January 10 after which they would start the Pakistan Trade Union March and move the protest camp to D-Chowk. “We will start hunger strike there and continue it till our deaths,” he warned.

According to the union leaders, there were seven berths in all at the port, one of which was reserved for vessels carrying oil and other liquids where dockworkers were not needed, while three others had been sold to a private firm, QICT, under the caretaker government of Moeenuddin Ahmed Qureshi in 1993.

The leaders said later in 2010, the Fauji Akbar Portia (FAP) Marine Terminal – a firm owned by the Fauji Foundation – was launched and the company brought in its own workers. The dockworkers who had then gathered to protest against the move were subjected to a brutal baton charge by law enforcement agencies.

“And now, the port authorities want to sell two more berths,” one of the leaders said. “After the two berths are sold, there would be only one berth left which can possibly not accommodate the 1,751 registered dockworkers responsible for keeping the tally of goods offloaded,” he added.

The dock workers have been demanding the implementation of the Dock Workers (Regulation of Employment) Act 1974 so that they are treated similar to the dock workers of Keamari port.

During the 100 days of their sit-in, the protesters asked Sindh Governor Imran Ismail and Federal Maritime Affairs Minister Ali Haider Zaidi to visit their camp and listen to their complains.

However, no representative of the federal government bothered to meet them. The dock workers have not been paid for many months due to which they have been unable to pay their house rents and utility bills.

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