Around 11,000 health workers who went door to door in Karachi’s six districts to vaccinate children against polio were fired without any prior notice, said leaders of the Polio Worker Action Committee at a press conference held at Karachi Press Club on Tuesday.
Leaders of various labour bodies also accompanied them to show their solidarity with the sacked polio worker. Speakers at the press conference said the sacking of polio vaccinators was against the labour laws and a blatant violation of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions the labour standards.
According to the sacked workers, the polio vaccination project of UNICEF and WHO was going on with the coordination of the Sindh government. The total operational work was handed over to the Sadaat Haider Mursheed Associates, a third-party contractor, which was a sheer violation of the ILO Conventions and the Sindh labour laws. It is unfortunate that UN bodies violating labour standards stood by their own sister organisation ILO, they claimed.
At a time when the Sindh government promulgated the Sindh COVID-19 Emergency Relief Ordinance, 2020 to protect employment and wages, an organisation under its nose terminated the services of 11,000 polio workers and denied paying their salaries of June.
“The affected polio workers submitted their grievances to the relevant officials but failed to get their response,” said Ghausuddin, a representative of the Polio Workers Action Committee. When their complaints were not addressed, the sacked polio workers held a protest outside the Karachi Press Club (KPC) on June 1 to raise their voices against “this inhuman treatment with frontline health workers”.
After the protest, negotiations were held with District West ADC Junaid and representatives of the Sindh government, WHO and UNICEF. “In the meeting, it was ensured that polio workers would be reinstated and salaries would be paid before June 10, but not a single worker has been reinstated nor the salaries of June have been paid till today,” he said.
The sacked polio workers also claimed that the representatives of UNICEF and the National Action Emergency Plan (NAEP) had also promised that the workers would be part of the news polio campaign very soon and make all-out efforts to pay their salaries as soon as possible.
“Unfortunately, both their claims turned out to be false because the schedule they were talking about was a continuous polio campaign”, said Ghausuddin. “It was just a proposal sent by them which had no status until approval. While the second claim, that June salaries will be paid, does not seem to be fulfilled at the moment”.
Speakers at the press conference demanded the government to reinstate the polio workers with immediate effect and their June salary should be paid without any delay.
Criticising the Sindh government over “the failure to implementing the COVID-19 Emergency Ordinance in practical terms to stop the sacking of workers across the city”, the labour leaders demanded of the government to ensure that all international organisations respected labour laws and ILO employment standards.
“The government should make these polio workers part of the national plan, and form a committee to investigate the polio fund,” they demanded. The leaders of labour groups said that presently, the situation in the country, especially in Sindh, was very vulnerable for workers and labourers due to the coronavirus lockdown. “Every human being longs for bread and livelihood. Millions of workers are at the verge of starvation due to a period of retrenchments,” said Nasir Mansoor, a leader of the National Trade Union Federation.
“In the given situation, the federal and the provincial governments are forcing employers not to sack workers during the lockdown, while contrary to its own instructions under contractors government supervision had dismissed 11,000 polio workers in Karachi,” he said.
Zulfiqar Shah, joint director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, Asad Iqbal Butt, vice-chairperson on Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Dr Sher Shah Syed, former Secretary General Pakistan Medical Association, Noreen Ishaq, Quratulain, Rehana Ahmed, representative and Parveen of Polio Workers Action Committee, were also at the press conference.
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