Big Labour Day rally in Karachi demands safeguarding of workers’ rights

KARACHI: On the occasion of the Labour Day, workers held a big rally here on Monday to reject the government policies aimed at safeguarding the vested interests of the elite class.

According to details, a large number of workers participated in the rally jointly organized by National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) and Home Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) that marched from the Regal Chowk to Karachi Press Club. Led by HBWWF general secretary Zehra Khan and NTUF leader Comrade Gul Rehman, the rally participants carrying banners, portraits of Chicago martyrs and red flags chanted revolutionary slogans.

Nasir Mansoor of NTUF said that the Pakistani workers completely reject the current economic and political policies of the rulers and condemn their apathy towards the issues of working classes. They have deprived the workers of all their basic rights gotten after the struggle of 1886. These rights are only present in the books of law but not being implemented. The present system in the country only protects the vested interests of just five percent elite population.

Mansoor said that leaving this five percent ruling elite, 33 Crores Pakistanis have been facing high price hike, especially food inflation, political uncertainty and lawlessness. The ruling elite has amassed huge wealth within and outside the country, but the common man is deprived of all basic facilities of life. More than half of our population is living beneath the poverty line. Factories and workplaces are modern day jails where more than eight Crore workers are made salaried slaves.

He added that the golden jubilee of the 1973 constitution is being celebrated but the rulers have shamelessly failed to provide their citizens the basic rights as per this very constitution. These rulers should be booked for violation of the constitution.

He said for the workers there is no democracy, freedom of expression and right to form trade unions. There are about eight Crore workers in Pakistan but their representation in assemblies is just nil. Factories and workplaces lack health and safety standards and have become virtual killing field for their workers. Ninety nine percent workers are deprived of their rights of forming labour unions. They are not given appointment letters and not registered with social security institutions.

Gul Rahma of Workers Right Movement said as per an estimate 22percent of workers are women but they get 20 to 40 percent less wages than the male workers. Harassment of women at workplaces is on the rise. He said in industrial areas lawlessness is at the peak. Factories depict the scene of the fifteenth century where workers as salaried slaves toil to make wealth for their owners. Eight hours a day working hours are not being implemented and workers are forced to work for unpaid overtime and also on official holidays.

Illegal contract labour system is there in almost ninety percent of factories. Labour department is silent over this open violation of labour laws. State owed entities are being sold for the peanuts in the name of privatization rendering hundreds of thousands workers jobless.

Commenting on the worsening economic crisis, Zehra Khan of HBWWF said that rulers instead of improving economy are hell bent to the slavery of international lenders, especially the International Monetary Fund (IMF), whose deadly debt trap has virtually defaulted the country.

She regretted that despite passage of ten years to the Baldia Factory Fire incident, no solid steps are taken yet for health and safety measures at workplaces. The situation is just worrisome in textile and garment sector. The factories making goods for the international fashion brands are openly violating labour rights.

To improve health and safety standards in textile, garments, shoe making and leather sectors some famed international brands have signed the Pakistan Accord. However, still many other international brands have yet to become the part of this important accord to save lives of their workers.

She further said that to get rid of current economic and political crisis, price hike, food inflation, poverty and joblessness it is necessary that the workers should forge unity above the discrimination of color, cast and creed and struggle for their rights in an organized manner.

The rally participants demanded that the minimum wage should be fixed at Rs50000 per month. All workers including the home based workers should be registered with the social security institutions. Demands of lady health workers should be accepted. Workplaces should be kept free from harassment.

They asked to implement labour laws in factories and workplaces. Making labour unions should be allowed and wages be paid through bank system. Contract labour should be made a crime. All citizens should be given proper education, healthcare, housing and public transport.

They demanded that to get rid of the capitalist slavery and introduce a real democracy, international norms should be adopted to freeze payments of all external debts. Looting national resources in the name of privatisation should be stopped. The demands of the employees and pensioners of Pakistan Steel Mills should be accepted.

The project of privatization of Wapda and other state owed entities should be shelved. A fifty percent cut should be made in all non-productive expenses including the defence spending. Trade relations with neighbors especially India, Iran and China should be promoted.

They asked to introduce agriculture reform and distribute available state lands amongst the landless Haris free of cost. Export industry should be given concessional gas and electricity. Electoral reforms should be introduced and workers, women and other oppressed classes should be given proper representation in assemblies. An empowered democratic local government system should be made.

Women, transgenders and minorities should be accepted as equal citizen. All discriminatory laws should be abolished. Implementation on anti-environment projects should be stopped. People should not be made homeless in the name of development.

Those spoke included Rafiq Baloch of National Trade Union Federation (NTUF), Assad Iqbal Bhutto of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Karamat Ali of National Labour Council, Saeed Balcoh of PFF, Anny Yaqoob and Parveen Bano of Home Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF), SairaFeroze and Zahida Parveen of United HB Garments Workers Union, Dr Asghar Ali Dashti, Janat of PTUDC, Aqib Hussain and Bilawal of Alternate, Bakhit Zamin of Site Labour Forum, Muhammad Siddique and Zarina Khatoon of Association of the Affectees of Baldia Factory Fire, Iqbal and Himat Phulpoto of Textile General Workers Union, Zulfikar Shah of Knowledge Forum, Mirza Maqsood of Pakistan Steel Mill Retired employee Association, Ghulam Mehboob, PC Hotel workers Union, Ayub Qureshi of National Party and Wahid Baloch and others.