Dock Workers’ Rights

Published in Dawn on January 24, 2019.

The recent success of the Port Qasim dock workers’ union in claiming due rights after months of struggle is worthy of our attention for three reasons. Foremost is the fact that this is the first time workers took an open stand against rights violations committed by a Chinese company working for a CPEC project. Secondly, the way the dock workers’ union garnered solidarity of a larger representation of trade unions and civil society reflected positively on the unionised labour in Karachi ports and the trade union movement no matter how weak it stands in the current neoliberal environment. Thirdly, it provides an opportunity to take stock of labour legislation and international standards compliance in our ports.

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Bricks and Change

Published in Dawn on October 14, 2018.

The recent debate on brick kilns as a site of pollution, spurred by the Environment Protection Department (EPD) Punjab’s decision to close down the kilns during winter for 70 days, brings in to focus an aspect other than bonded labour generally associated with brick kilns. Based on a technology (Fixed Chimney Bull’s Trench Kiln, or FCBTK) as old as 1876, an estimated 11,500 brick kilns in Pakistan are run on coal and bonded labour. The pollution caused by their high emissions of black carbon from coal burning is linked with asthma, cancer, heart and lung ailments, posing risks for more than one million bonded labour involved in brick making. It is also leads to the smog impacting the cities. Considering the fact that we are a nation that hankers for ‘change’ yet resists it, it surprises no one that in this sector there is resistance to change in both technology and its exploitative labour relations.

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Sanitation Workers

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2017

OF all categories of occupations, the most invisible and least talked about work in our country is sanitation or management of human refuse, wastewater, effluents and solid waste. According to a 2015 World Bank estimate, 64 per cent of Pakistan’s population has access to improved sanitation facilities which include pit latrines, composting toilets and flush/pour flush services.

In our urban centres, sewage is conveyed through underground sewer networks to treatment plants (rarely) or directly to the water bodies (mostly). Managing human refuse of some 200 million people requires a significant number of workers even if the available facilities do not serve the entire population. So, who are these people who carry out sanitation tasks at hundreds of tehsil municipal administrations, some municipal corporations and thousands of union councils? Do they have a voice?

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Core and Periphery

Published in Dawn on December 31st, 2016

“People resist exploitation. They resist as actively as they can, as passively as they must.” — Immanuel Wallerstein

IN his world system analysis, Wallerstein speaks of a multiplicity of political systems which gives capitalists a “freedom of manoeuvre that is structurally based”.

This analysis explains how the system works when the core (rich) countries export waste to peripheral (poor) economies in the shape of decaying ships. It is the core (industrialist-state) nexus in the peripheral country itself which benefits at the expense of its peripheral (marginalised) labour. A follow-up of the disaster at the Gadani ship-breaking yard in Balochistan validates the premise.

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Lessons of History

Published on June 8 2016 in Dawn

THE convoluted history of the labour movement in Pakistan is replete with negativities: state oppression by both military and democratic regimes, ethnic and ideological divides among workers, employers’ subversion of genuine workers’ representation through pocket unions, to name a few. Yet it was a brief, two-year flicker of industrial labour struggle that stood out for its promise of labour solidarity and potential for sustained movement, had it not been extinguished by Z.A. Bhutto’s civilian martial law regime in June 1972.

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Dangerous Industry

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2016

AS you drive down the Super Highway, past Sohrab Goth in Karachi, your eyes fall on mammoth excavators — huge truck cranes, bulldozers, loaders and cement-mixers parked left and right in the open katcha land. Around the dangerous-looking machinery you spot drivers and cleaners in faded shalwar kameez squatting and chatting, or resting on charpoys.

In between are patches of dust and bushes, raiti-bajri adda with mounds of gravel, stand-by trucks and junkyards full of rusted vehicles. The first thought that springs to your mind: ‘Construction business is booming is Pakistan!’ Indeed, the machinery, high-rises, upcoming residential schemes, underpasses and flyovers — all highly visible — are indicative of the 7pc growth rate of the construction industry and its 2.4pc contribution to the country’s GDP.

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