Workers’ Ordeal

Published in Dawn on August 22, 2017

Surrealism runs through the streets…
— Gabriel Garcia Marquez

GARCIA Marquez’s description of the reality of Latin America fits snugly into scenarios here. Or so it seems. How else would you convey the reality of several worldviews that are bizarre but that actually exist? What strange stories are hidden in the harsh realm of workers and the multilayered reality of, say, a public-sector enterprise that shut down its operations in June 2015 and still has on its payroll 12,000 employees?

When I rang up Mirza sahib, an employee at the Pakistan Steel Mills since the 1980s, and asked if we could meet, he said, “I am stationed in Dalbandin”. It was eerie to hear the melodious name of that faraway town in Balochistan. How come he ended up there? A punishment for activism, a case of enforced transfer, I am told. The PSM has a small iron ore project, now closed, in Chagai district. “The machines are lying on a hill and there is nothing to do.”

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Safety through IT

Published in Dawn, June 4th, 2017

WHILE we often marvel at how the IT revolution is changing our culture, trade, commerce, banking and entertainment, and bask in gadgetry — mobile phones, laptops, LEDs, WiFi etc — we seldom wonder why the benefits of low-cost circuitry is not reaching areas where it is needed the most ie hazardous workplaces.

In the context of business and trade in our country, the purpose of IT is usually efficient management and productivity enhancement — and hardly the health and safety of workers. So it came as a pleasant surprise to learn about a young IT graduate’s resolve to make mining safer through designing and producing ‘smart helmets’ based on cost-effective ZigBee wireless technology.

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Collective Struggle of Lady Health Workers

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2016

ONE of the many contradictions of our society is between its loud avowal of its love of the ‘family’ institution and its devaluation of woman, the pivotal figure in the family. Not only do we look down on women inside the family, we give two hoots about women who commit themselves to door-to-door healthcare services for the women and children of the family. No wonder the issues being faced by lady health workers — job security, timely payment of wages and supplies of kits and medicines —remain to be addressed fully by the state.

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Off-Track Railways

THE railway system, one of the pillars of the Industrial Revolution, transformed societies, including the subcontinent, economically and socially. Henry Bartle Frere, chief commissioner of Sindh(1850-1859) had commented on the massive railway network the British planned. He said that it would unite not only the “distant provinces in one bond of material prosperity” but bring “distant peoples and races” closer to each other.

After 1947, the railways took different trajectories in India and Pakistan. While India maintained and enhanced the railways, the network saw gradual decay in Pakistan, destroying livelihoods, robbing people of prosperity and crushing their dreams and passion for their vocation — as engine drivers, boiler men, station masters, signalmen and more.

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Labour and State Institutions

Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2014

Labour relations, or industrial relations, refer to a system of governance of interaction between employers, workers and the state. Based on the concepts that set the ground rules for governance of a tricky relationship between two unequal partners — employers and workers — labour relations are worked out under a body of legislation and administrative procedures mediated and implemented by the state. The role of the state is crucial in determining the direction and the policies of labour relations.

Let’s begin with the Labour and Human Resources Department, Sindh which carries out eight tasks related to labour relations (law enforcement, dispute resolution, labour courts, social security, vocational training, facilitation of employment, minimum wage fixation, labour welfare) through seven attached departments. The Directorate of Labour is one of the seven departments and is entrusted with the tasks of trade union registration, determination of collective bargaining agents, settlement of industrial disputes and enforcement of labour laws.

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Coal miners: the ground realities

PAKISTAN ranks as the sixth richest country in respect of coal reserves but those who dig out the black gold from the depths of the earth are the most exploited section of the workforce. Descending into dark, airless tunnels, miners extract coal from simple tools, inhaling coal dust, fearing methane gas explosions, fires, cave-ins, poisonous gas leakages and haulage accidents.

Out of the mines, the workers endure harsh conditions in makeshift mud shacks nearby, or in villages devoid of all basic facilities. Mine workers in Pakistan get a pittance for work considered one of the highest-risk activities in the world in terms of safety and health.

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