Subscribe to Secularism is a Womens Issue

Secularism is a Women’s Issue

Home > impact on women / resistance > Pakistan: Labour activists speak up against use of religion for political (...)

Pakistan: Labour activists speak up against use of religion for political gain, seek electoral reforms, strengthening of labour rights and workplace safety

Saturday 23 August 2014, by siawi3

10 August

The Daily Times, 9 August 2014

Labour, trade unions demand electoral reforms

Press Release
August 09, 2014

KARACHI: Leaders of trade unions, labour supporting organisations, human rights organisations and pro-democracy activists on Friday criticised alleged attempts to subvert the current democratic system and demanded making true reforms in the electoral systems by providing representations to workers, peasants and middle class people. Addressing a joint press conference at Karachi Press Club they resolved to join hands to foil any attempt to derail the present democratic system through unconstitutional methods. They pointed out that attempts like “Azadi March” by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on August 14 and Youm-e-Shuhada by Pakistani Awami Tahrik (PAT) on August 10 would not bring positive change for the common people. Instead, such attempts would create problems for the people. The real independence for the working class people would be achieved when representatives of workers, peasants and middle class would be able to reach the parliament and provincial assemblies instead of sons of landlords, feudals or capitalists. They agreed that the present democratic system is not a true representative system, but any change through unconstitutional means should not be accepted and all changes should come through parliament. “All the matters should be discussed in the parliament and people’s representatives should be taken into confidence on vital national matters,” the statement issued on the occasion said, adding that the present governments at the centres and the four provinces have done nothing for the welfare and protection of workers’ rights during the one-year tenure. They criticised the Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leadership, whose Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi and General Secretary Jahangir Tareen were only feudal lords that represented the landlords against land reforms in Supreme Court petitions. They welcomed formation of parliament’s electoral reforms committee and said that besides making changes in effective elections, it should also consider proposal to ensure that representatives of workers, peasants, middle class and all religions can get chance to be elected in the parliament. “We would also provide suggestions for providing representations to the workers in the parliament and would seek time to personally meet and present suggestions to the members of the committee,” said Karamat Ali of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) at the press conference. He criticized the suggested use of the Holy Quran by Dr Tahirul Qadri at the rally on Youm-e-Shuhada on August 10 in Lahore. The use of religion or religious symbols for political purposes should be condemned and legal action should be taken against Dr Qadri for inciting people against the government. “By asking the people to enter policemen’s homes and advising people to force policemen to recite Holy Quran on gun points is a condemnable act and we welcome registration of cases against Dr Qadri,” he added. He also told the newsmen that Pakistani labour organisations are supporting the campaign of international labour organizations against atrocities of Israel in Gaza: “Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) against Israel apartheid.”

o o o

The News International

Civil society voices concern over anti-govt movements

our correspondent
Saturday, August 09, 2014


Alarmed by the ‘provocative’ banter dominating the current political discourse ahead of the two mass anti-government protests in Punjab next week, 25 trade unions and civil society organisations gathered at the Karachi Press Club on Friday to air their concerns.

Denouncing the “Youm-e-Shuhuda” planned by the Pakistan Awami Tehreek in Lahore and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s “Azadi March” in Islamabad, the speakers said that though the current democratic system had its flaws, open threats of a forced ouster and other measures that encourage individuals to take the law into their own hands should never be the line of action either.

Led by the Pakistan Institute of Labour, Education and Research (Piler) and supported by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the People’s Labour Federation, the trade union representatives said that permission to hold peaceful protest rallies was one of the many benefits of democracy, but the impending events reeked of intent to derail the current democratically-elected government.

Speaking on everyone’s behalf, Piler chief Karamat Ali made it clear that the civil society was not in support of the upcoming protests and openly condemned any such “undemocratic and unconstitutional” attempts at thwarting the progress of democracy.

He said the statements being made by leaders of the parties spearheading the demonstrations were openly inciting social anarchy. Urging everyone to condemn such behaviour, Ali said that Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri’s request to his supporters to hang copies of the Holy Quran around their necks was a highly condemnable call. “No one has ownership over religious scripture and any attempts to use it for political gains should be vehemently condemned,” he said.

The Piler chief said that complaints over election rigging were nothing new and the civil society recognised the need for reforms in the electoral system. “However, the issue should be resolved through talks in parliamentary circles and by pressuring the committee set up to probe such allegations,” said Ali.

“A democratic set up allows all stakeholders, and the public, to provide feedback to the government and its institutions, which is exactly what we plan to do,” he said, adding that all the organisations present would forward suggestions to the Electoral Reforms Committee.

Gaza crisis

The civil society representatives also condemned the ongoing bloodshed in Gaza and called on all citizens to support the Workers Solidarity Committee for Palestine’s movement for a boycott of Israeli products and companies, to be launched on Saturday (today).

Those present at the press conference included Asad Iqbal Butt of HRCP, Shafiq Ghori of the Sindh Labour Federation, Lateef Mughal of the People’s Labour Federation, Mehnaz Rehman of Aurat Foundation and Jalil Shah of the KPT Labour Union. — Tehmina Qureshi

o o o

The Nation, 5 August 2014
Labour bodies to file case in EU court against German firm

August 05, 2014
Our Staff Reporter


The labour supporting organisations would file a case in a European court against German garments exporting company, KIK that was buying about 90 percent of products of Ali Enterprises in Baldia, Karachi, where over 250 workers died in a deadly fire incident on September 11, 2012.

Addressing a joint press conference at Karachi Press Club (KPC) on Monday, the Executive Director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) Karamat Ali, senior lawyer Faisal Siddiqui, Vice Chairman of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Asad Iqbal Butt and Lateef Mughal of Peoples Labour Bureau said that besides the Germany company, the Pakistani labour supporting organisations would also file a case against RINA, the certification company, which granted certification to Ali Enterprises.
They said that on the occasion of second anniversary of Baldia fire incident in September this year, the labour supporting organisations of Europe and South Asia would organise different programmes. The Baldia fire incident was the worst ever fire incident in any industry and there is a concern among the trade unions of the world against precarious working conditions in South Asia. Over 1000 workers lost in Rana Plaza collapse incident in Dhaka Bangladesh where many garments factories were located.

They pointed out that the German company had signed an MoU with PILER to provide initial relief and long term compensation to the affected families of Baldia fire incident. The company had provided $1 million, which were distributed among the victims’ families via Sindh High Court appointed Commission headed by a retired Judge of Supreme Court of Pakistan Justice (Retd) Rahmat Hussain Jafery.

But after the first phase of immediate relief, the company has now showed reluctance for providing long term compensation for the workers’ families.
Faisal Siddiqi advocate said he had visited Germany and Italy in last July and held meeting with KIK, where the company expressed its unwillingness to pay further. He said he along with European friend held a press briefing in Germany where media gave wide coverage to the KIK stance.

After media coverage and a reaction from European people the KIK has agreed to enter into a dialogue for long term compensation.

He pointed out that under the long term compensation package, the KIK had to support the efforts for ensuring occupational health and safety facilities at the work places in Pakistan.

o o o

Dawn, 5 August 2014

Baldia factory: HR body plans action against foreign firm

By The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter
Published Aug 05, 2014 06:24am

Photo: Rights activist Karamat Ali addresses the press conference at KPC.— Photo release

KARACHI: While murder charges against the owners of Ali Enterprises — a garments factory in Baldia Town where hundreds of workers were burnt to death nearly two years ago — have not been dropped so far, they are once again pursuing European markets to sell their product, said the counsel for the victims at a press conference on Monday.

“We’ve recently heard that they have been trying to pursue European markets to sell their products which I think is alarming. We are trying to make sure that no one buys their product or does business with them after what had happened in September 2012,” says Advocate Faisal Siddiqi while speaking at the Karachi Press Club.

The Baldia factory fire, which is considered to be the worst industrial tragedy in the country’s history, had left as many as 259 workers dead and many others injured on Sept 11, 2012.

The lawyer, accompanied by rights activist Karamat Ali, said that murder charges against the factory owners were still there. A former prime minister had given instructions to the chief secretary to withdraw the charges but they had not been withdrawn so far. Bank accounts of the owners are frozen until further orders by a court, he explained, while a list of properties owned by them is also submitted in the high court.

Besides, Mr Siddiqi along with labour rights bodies is considering to pursue a legal case against the German company, KIK, for going back on its words to provide compensation to the victims on a long-term basis. The company, which used to buy 90 per cent of its products from Ali Enterprises until the 2012 blaze, agreed to pay for the compensation to those who died in the fire, the lawyer claimed.

Following the industrial fire and pursuing the KIK management for eight months, labour organisations from across Pakistan, headed by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), had a long meeting with the company’s management. “A Memorandum of Understanding was signed after the meeting,” said Mr Siddiqi. “We decided on three points: firstly, to ensure immediate relief to the families of the victims; secondly, payment of compensation to the families on a long-term basis; and thirdly, strengthening labour rights in Pakistan through collaborative efforts between KIK and labour organisations.”

He said the first phase of the agreement was completed after the KIK issued a cheque for one million dollars and the money was distributed among the families through a judicial commission constituted by the Sindh High Court.

“But it is the second phase of the agreement,” added Mr Siddiqi, “of providing long-term compensation to the families on which the company is behaving evasively. This has also put a question mark over the third phase of the agreement.”

In a copy of the document shared by Piler at the press conference, the company has signed beneath the agreement that says it “is willing to fund another $250,000 in the year 2013” that at present has become a bone of contention between the two groups.

Mr Siddiqi claimed when he reminded the company management about the agreement in a recent meeting, “they refused to acknowledge their commitment”.

A day after the meeting on July 17, the lawyer along with Clean Clothes Campaign, an alliance of labour unions worldwide, called a press conference in Germany. “We approached the media, parliamentarians, and government officials to take notice of the issue. Eventually, the issue was raised in the German parliament. But, sadly, the response in our own country to this tragedy has been apathetic,” the lawyer recalls.

Social accountability

The counsel for the factory fire victims said that labour rights organisations are also preparing to file a case against RINA, a global certification body based in Italy, for issuing social accountability certificate (SA8000) to the industrial unit in Baldia nearly three weeks before it burnt down and killed hundreds of workers trapped inside the factory.

On the day following the fire, Social Accountability and Accreditation Services was informed that RINA had issued SA8000 certification to the Ali Enterprises on Aug 20, 2012, according to the Social Accountability International.

Mr Siddiqi said the company also had issued certificates to 350 other factories which must be inspected properly. “An investigation into the role of the said company is under way. It has been suspended to further issue any certificates to other companies. But from our end, we want to ensure that the companies they have previously issued certificates to are also inspected,” the lawyer added.

Two years after the huge fire engulfed the Baldia factory, he said, the situation surrounding labour laws and the condition of most factories in and around SITE is more or less the same. “This remains one of the biggest factory fires in South Asia, and yet it is not getting the sort of public support it should.”

Piler Executive Director Karamat Ali said: “We have been repeatedly pointing out the need for labour unions and a review of labour laws to find out where we are going wrong.

“After the Baldia factory incident, there were many other incidents reported at other factories but they are not being highlighted. There’s no action being taken about it either.”

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2014