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Workers rally against price hike, plunder in Karachi

Workers rally against price hike, plunder in Karachi

KARACHI: The bright red flags were out once again to denounce and reject the rising costs of commodities and other daily use items.

Labour leaders and workers associated with the National Trade Union Fed­era­tion (NTUF) and Home Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) marched from Regal Chowk to the Karachi Press Club on Thursday.

Speakers in the rally pointed fingers at the ruling elite.

They said that scams like the Pandora Papers were an undeniable proof of loot and plunder of the ruling classes in Pakistan. They said that they were transferring loot money and black money from Pakistan to offshore companies, which serve as their safe tax havens abroad. And meanwhile, millions of workers in Pakistan are deprived of basic facilities despite working tirelessly.

They said it was akin to mortgaging the country with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other imperialistic lending institutions. And because of this the country has been pushed to the verge of collapse.

“The entire economic system of Pakistan is in the grip of the agents and employees of international lending institutions such as the IMF. And so we see price hikes, joblessness, hunger and poverty. The rates of daily use kitchen items such as wheat flour, sugar, cooking oil, rice and pulses have increased by one hundred per cent. Medicines are made costlier by 300 to 400 per cent and gas and electricity by 100 to 200 per cent. This inflation has broken workers’ back,” said Nasir Mansoor of NTUF.

“And then the rulers get into this blame game by accusing the masses of not paying their taxes. But the fact is that the masses pay Rs610 billion a year worth of taxes while the government collects more than Rs4,000 billion taxes every year from other heads also. The general sales tax on daily-use items is 31 per cent of the total revenue of the government and this money is robbed from the pockets of the common man,” he added.

“It is due to such anti-people policies of the sitting government that more than 16 million people are jobless today and the number of people living beneath the poverty line here has seen a record increase of more than 20 million during the tenure of this government so far. There are more and more poor people visiting free kitchens these days. The number of beggars and homeless people in the urban areas of Pakistan has been on a sharp increase. On the directions of international lending institutions such as the IMF, the government is systemically privatising important entities of the public sector and millions of people are expected to lose their jobs due to it,” said Zehra Khan of HBWWF.

“The anti-people policies of this government have seen the Pakistani rupee being devalued by about 17 per cent, which means that the real wages of workers are reduced by half. The inflation rate in Pakistan is more than 11 per cent which is almost double of other countries of the region, while the per capita income in Pakistan is almost half of other countries of the region. Local and foreign loans have increased with a sharp pace. In 2018, the foreign loans were 93 billion dollars which are now increased to 122 billion dollars. Local loans in 2018 were Rs25 trillion which have now increased to Rs40 trillion,” said Karamat Ali of National Labour Council.

“Against the backdrop of the ongoing worst economic crisis in Pakistan, the capitalists and their organisations have filed a case in court against Rs25,000 per month minimum wages as announced by the government. These lawbreaker and apathetic capitalists are those people who do not pay taxes and also do not register their workers with social security card pension institutions. They do not recognise the minimum wages as the right of workers. They have kept 99 per cent of workers deprived of the constitutional right of making unions. They have introduced an illegal contract labour system in their organisations. Today factories and workplaces have become slave plantations where workers toil in inhumane and unsafe working conditions,” Karamat Ali added.

“To threaten the workers and keep them under the thumb these capitalists employ retired officers of security agencies in their factories on heavy wages. There is a virtual martial law in industrial zones because of this,” said Asad Iqbal Butt of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

“Institutions such as the labour department, labour courts and the National Industrial Relations Commission are like front men of the capitalists. They all work against the right of labours. The violations of human rights, labour laws and constitutional basic rights in factories and workplaces are the order of the day,” he added.

Other speakers also agreed that due to the wrong policies of the sitting government, the resultant economic and political crisis has forced different sections of society to take to the streets. There are bans and curbs on political and social workers, journalists and media organisations that expose the horrible economic, political and social crises of this country. The rulers hide facts. They block access to information and gag the freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Now they have also hatched a ‘conspiracy’ to bring in the so-called Pakistan Media Development Authority that is being opposed by journalists and media workers across Pakistan.

“Since 2014, Pakistan has promised to safeguard the rights of workers against the General Scheme of Preferences (GSP) plus. However, labour rights as enshrined in the GSP plus are being openly violated. As a result, there can be heavy duty on garments and other products being exported to European countries, which would cast very negative effect on Pakistan’s industry, especially the textile and garments sectors,” said Riaz Abbasi of NTUF.

They said that the only way to avert the crisis is to get workers organised nationwide.

A resolution passed on the occasion demanded implementation of Rs25,000 minimum wages, eight-hour working days, one paid weekly holiday and double rate overtime. It also demanded an end to third party contract system and registering of every worker with social security and pension institutions. It also raised the issue of harassment of women and discrimination towards them at workplaces, which needs to be ended. It demanded safe working environments. Inflation was also addressed. It said that the price of wheat flour, cooking oil, pulses, sugar, rice, milk, electricity, gas, petroleum products, medicines, education, health, public transport and other basic needs be lowered and their access to the public be ensured.

It also demanded stopping privatisation of public-owned institutions such as Pakistan Steel Mills and Wapda.

Gul Rehman of Workers Right Movement, Faheem Siddiqui of Karachi Union of Journalists, Saira Feroze of United Home-Based Workers Union, Jamila A. Latif of Home Based Women Bangle Workers Union, Qazi Khizr of HRCP, Aquib Hussain of J & P Coats, Babar Khan of Rauf Textile Workers Union, Saeeda Khatoon of Ali Enterprise Factory Fire affectees Association, Sajjad Zahir of Anjuman Taraqqi Pasand Musannafeen, Khaliq Zadgan of Lyari Awami Mahaz, progressive intellectual Dr Asghar Dashti, Owais Jatoi of General Textile Workers Union, Mir Zulfiqar of Workers Education and Research Organisation, Rabia and Nadra of the HBWWF, progressive individual Wahid Baloch, Saeed Baloch of Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, Manzoor Razi of Pakistan Railways Union also participated in the rally.

Similar rallies were also held in Hyderabad, Sukkur, Naudero, Sanghar, Badin, Islamkot, Umerkot, Tando Mohammed Khan, Quetta and Hub.

Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2021

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