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Labour leaders condemn police firing on protesting workers in Korangi

Karachi

May 20, 2020

Expressing their anger at the Sindh government for not implementing its notification and ordinance on COVID-19 against the non-payment of wages and forced dismissals, labour leaders and sacked workers have threatened to organise a sit-in outside the provincial assembly if the laying off of workers and the non-payment of their wages continue.

As a part of its series of protests across Karachi against the dismissal of workers during the government’s preventive lockdown against local transmission of the novel coronavirus, two separate protests were organised in SITE Industrial Area -- at Habib Bank Chowrangi and Ghani Chowrangi -- on Tuesday.

The National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) Sindh President Gul Rehman led the protest, while a large number of representatives of various affiliate unions, and the workers who were sacked and deprived of their wages attended the demonstration.

Members of the Awami Workers Party, Mazdoor Kisan Party, Pakistan Trade Union Federation, National Trade Union Federation, Women Democratic Front, Progressive Students Federation and other labour unions under the banner of the Workers Solidarity Committee attended the protest at Ghani Chowrangi.

NTUF General Secretary Nasir Mansoor said the firing on workers for demanding their legitimate rights was a highly reprehensible act. “The dangerous thing is that the police themselves are also involved in this heinous act and are protecting the interests of the capitalists by becoming a party in the industrial dispute.”

Condemning the opening of fire on the protesting workers in the Korangi Industrial Area on Tuesday by the police to disperse them, Mansoor said the incident shows that the capitalists want to intimidate workers and suppress their movement through using government machinery.

“Unfortunately, government departments and political parties care only about the well-being of factory owners, traders and transporters, but they don’t care about the basic rights of the millions of workers who drive the wheels of production and the economy.”

Over six million workers have been laid off so far, while more than 40 per cent of the informal sector, especially home-based workers, have lost their jobs and livelihoods, he said. “It’s ironic that the government announced a number of economic packages for industrialists and their implementation has started, while the aid announced for workers is yet to reach them,” he lamented.

“Unemployed workers’ families have been starving for the past three months, and the prime minister is still planning in his resort to deliver the relief package.”

Govt failure

Labour leader Aqib Hussain, who is also the joint secretary of the workers union at a textile factory, said the government had allowed most of the factories to resume production but failed to ensure compliance with the standard operating procedures.

He said the lives of millions of workers are in danger. “There’s no one to bring those who endanger human beings for the sake of profit to justice,” he lamented.

“The Sindh Labour Department has miserably failed to protect the workers’ rights in this crisis, and the courts have not acted promptly on the constitutional and legal petitions filed to protect those rights.” He also claimed that the provincial labour department’s officials who are responsible for enforcing the labour laws are actually advising employers on how to sack their workers.

Ordinance

Home-Based Women Workers Federation Vice President Saira Feroze said that despite the issuance of a relevant ordinance, no notification has yet been released regarding the modalities of its implementation, which has called into question the usefulness of the ordinance.

“This situation is painful for the workers, as they don’t know where to lodge a complaint against the establishment that has not implemented this ordinance.”

Lawlessness

Babar Khan, general secretary of the union at a textile mill, said that growing lawlessness in industrial enterprises and blatant violations of the labour laws in the face of the dangerous COVID-19 pandemic as well as the resultant economic crisis has been forcing workers to fight back and decide issues on the streets. The workers are left with no other option but to sit in front of the factories they work at during this hot summer season in the holy month of Ramazan, he lamented.

Subcontracts

The NTUF’s Rehman said that under the guise of the coronavirus epidemic, factory managements have been refusing to pay bonuses to their workers, while the workers are being forced to resign from their permanent jobs and work under an illegal subcontract system.

“The working class will not tolerate this situation for long. In the next stage, the Sindh Assembly will be cordoned off. And if injustice doesn’t stop, sit-ins will be organised outside the residences of industrialists and the relevant government officials.”

Action sought

The demonstrators demanded that immediate action be taken against the factory management and the SHO of the Korangi Industrial Area for firing on unarmed workers, and that the police officer involved in the incident be suspended.

They also demanded that payment of wages and bonuses to all factory workers be ensured well before Eidul Fitr, that the series of forced dismissals of workers from factories be stopped immediately, and that violators be punished in accordance with the law. They urged that through a notification, the responsibilities of the implementation of the COVID-19 ordinance be given to the departments concerned as well as to the local administration, including commissioners and deputy commissioners, with immediate effect.

The police should be ordered to stop intimidating workers at the behest of factory owners, they demanded. They asked the government to announce a special aid package for the unorganised sector, especially home-based workers, and implement it immediately.

In the next budget, the minimum salary should be set at Rs30,000, the current amount of pension should be doubled, while the health and education budget should be made equal to the defence spending, they demanded.

Ghani Chowrangi

The protesters at Ghani Chowrangi also expressed deep concerns over violent action taken by the management and owners of a textile factory in Korangi Industrial Area.

Denouncing the factory’s decision to open fire on its workers for demanding their rightful wages, AWP-Karachi general secretary Khurram Ali, said, “Today’s action cannot be taken as one of the incidents. In fact, it is a reflection of the unhindered power that this state has awarded these capitalist owners. They can run a factory one day, and shut it down the other, as they please.

“By making labourers work for 12-16 hours under the contractual system, these factory owners make a mockery of labour laws. But from the labour department to the federal and provincial governments, and even the National Industrial Relations Commission, [the authorities] are not just quiet on these violations but also appear to be safeguarding the interests of these capitalists.”

Representing the Mazdoor Kisan Party, Qamar Abbas said workers were continuously being laid off during the pandemic. Today when the state should have been standing with its working class, it was supporting capitalist owners, he said. Veteran trade unionist and Pakistan Trade Union Federation leader Kaneez Fatima said, “This crisis has identified the need to shift from policies of privatisation and neo-liberalism to a planned economy because the current system does not have a solution to the challenges posed by this pandemic.”