KARACHI - Like other parts of the country, workers in rural and urban Sindh showed unity on Monday (May 1) to continue their struggle for their rights.

To mark the Labour Day, a large number of farmers and industrial labourers jointly took out a rally from Mazar-e-Quaid, which swelled into a big gathering and finally culminated at Karachi Press Club.

Senior politician and head of Pakistan Awami Tehrik Rasool Bux Palejo especially attended the gathering, while President of Supreme Court Bar Association Justice (r) Rasheed A Rizvi was the chief guest on the occasion.

On the occasion, the labourers vowed to continue the struggle for their rights to association and collective bargaining. Currently only one percent workers are members of trade unions, out of over 60 million workers.

They said, in their speeches, that introduction of contract system in all government and private sector organisations had discouraged trade unions, leading to the exploitation of labourers.

It was a unanimous demand of the workers that a separate law be enacted for trade unions similar to the Trade Union Act 1926, which was adopted by Pakistan after the independence, and later the military rulers scrapped it in 1959.

A large number of women peasants from different districts of Sindh also joined the labour rally and then the labour meeting.

They demanded the provision of equal wages and the elimination of discrimination against them. It was resolved to increase the number of women members in trade unions. A joint declaration was issued on the occasion, which was read out by Soonhn Gopang.

It was resolved in the declaration to establish a workers alliance. The privatization of public sector industries was opposed. It was also demanded that the contract system, including third-party employment system, be abolished, which is exploitative and creates insecurity among the workers. Gopang said that farmers were deprived of right to unionization and collective bargaining.

It was further stated that the Sindh Tenancy Act 1950 was needed to be amended and under this law, Hari courts should be established.

The meeting decried shortage of both irrigation and drinking water in Sindh and demanded the government to implement the water Accord of 1991 in its true letter and spirit.

The gathering underlined the need for massive electoral reforms in the country to provide representation to the workers in the legislative assemblies and local government system.

Secretary General of Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ) read out the resolutions on the occasion.

The resolutions demanded the government to ratify all labour conventions of International Labour Organisation (ILO).

President of Supreme Court Bar Association Justice (r) Rasheed A Rizvi, in his speech as a chief guest, appreciated the participation by a large number of women workers in the rally.

He deplored there was no change in the working condition of labourers in Pakistan despite the passage of 70 years.

He said that in the current system, problems of workers could not be solved. “All rulers, military, civil, are united against the workers,” he said, and added, “Without unity, workers cannot get their problems solved.” He also pointed out divisions in the ranks of workers.

Executive Director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) Karamat Ali, in his welcome remarks, said that Chicago's workers had struggled for eight-hour workday, but today this right was not available to workers in Pakistan. “Minimum wages are fixed at Rs14, 000, but no labourer receives these wages,” he said, and added that Pakistan was the fourth country in terms of industrial accidents as majority of workers were working in difficult situation.

He said all this was because only one percent workers were organised in the unions. “In such a situation, the labour laws are not implemented anywhere,” he said, and added, “The workers cannot effectively unit unless 35 percent of them are united in trade unions.”

Ali said earlier, the Trade Union Act of 1926 was available for the registration of trade unions in Pakistan but it was repealed by the military rulers. “Hence, the workers are not able to get themselves organised,” he added.

Liaqat Sahi of State Bank workers union said that the third-party contract system had caused insecurity among workers. “Article 27 of the constitution ensures employment on contract system. We condemn violation of this article,” he added. Arif Junejo, president of Sindhi Mazdoor Tehrik, said that capitalists are exploiting the rights of workers.

He said workers would wage a united struggle against the capitalists.

Hoorun Nisa Palejo of Sindhiani Tehrik said women workers were also united and they would continue their struggle for their rights.

She said a large number of women were working in the agriculture sector, but they were not considered as workers. Asad Iqbal Butt, vice chairman of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), said that there should be only one demand of the workers that they should be provided appointment letters.

Farhat Perveen, Executive Director of National Organisation of Working Communities, said the employers did not provide minimum wages to them. "We demand a law for providing rights to peasants and agriculture workers. We demand the restoration of Trade Unions Act 1926,” she added.

Ghulam Mehboob of PC Workers Union said he was leading the struggle of PC workers, who had been removed from their service. He resolved to continue his struggle till his death.

Raheel Iqbal of Export Processing Zone Labour Union said that 350 industries were located in the zone, where they did not allow formation of trade unions. “In 1980, a black law was imposed and the zone was exempted from all labour laws,” he added. Muqadar Zaman of Railway workers union said there was a need for unity of workers.

Those who also spoke on the occasion included Abdus Sattar Gopang from Awami Mazdoor Tehrik, Zahid Sharif of National Students Federation, Mahnaz Rahman of Aurat Foundation, Habibuddin Junaidi of Sindh Labour Solidarity Committee, Saeed Baloch of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Naveed Shah of KPT Labour Union, Rehana Yasmin of Sindh Hosiery Garments Workers General Union, Ahmed Naeem Qureshi from Pakistan Mazdoor Muttahida Mahaz, Abdur Rauf of Muttahida Labour Federation Abdur Rauf, Mohammad Khalil of Sindhi Hari Tehrik, Majid Memon, Pakistan Trade union Defence campaign, Gul Mohammad Afridi, Members of Sindhiani Tehrik presented tableaus and songs on the occasion.

Similarly, National Trade Union Federation and the Home Based Women Workers Federation took out a rally from Regal Chowk till Karachi Press Club to mark the Labour Day.

NTUF President Rafiq Baloch led the Karachi rally. While addressing the participants of the rally, he said the workers will wipe out the system through an organised struggle.

He told that more than 60 million workers in the country were deprived of their due rights and were not allowed to form unions at their workplaces.

"The union is deemed like a forbidden tree and when workers get near to it, they are persecuted."

He said in 90 percent of companies across the country, the workers were forced to work beyond the eight-hour shift and were not even paid the minimum wages.

"This is also a violation of the basic human rights but authorities do not seem to bother."

"Getting registered with the social security institutions and pension funds is the first right of a worker, but most of the companies never do that. They do not even issue employment letters to their workers," he complained. 

Citing examples of the 2012 Baldia factory fire incident and 2016 Gadani oil tanker tragedy, he said that such disasters occurred when employers put their workers lives at stake just to save a few bucks with them. "The greed of capitalist was insatiable." He remarked that the government in return for kickbacks had devised a strategy to hand over all the utilities like power, gas, and water as well as services like health, education, and transport to the capitalists to let them plunder with the public more. 

Mentioning the plight of home-based workers - of which women make the majority, he said that they were the best example of the modern day slaves. "They work the whole day long but in return get peanuts only. They are not entitled as workers in the book of law."

NTUF deputy general secretary Nasir Mansoor, Ghani Zaman, Gul Rehman, Riaz Abbasi, Bashir Mehmoodani, Zehra Khan, Mushtaq Ali Shan, and Saeeda Khatoon also spoke.