MNCs and Ports

Published in Dawn on July 3, 2019.

IN this age of globalisation, multinational corporations hold a vital place in the world’s port industry as 80 per cent of the global trade is handled by maritime transportation. Ports the world over are now increasingly being developed and operated by the MNCs for container terminal services in an environment of deregulation. With the privatisation of ports and globalisation of trade, a race to the bottom has come about in labour standards for workers.

So the union busting by the South Asia Port Terminal, Karachi, a subsidiary of the Hutchison Ports, is business as usual. Through the internet, the SAPT Democratic Workers’ Union does have supporters in the world hence the news of sacking of the union members four weeks ago was circulated and a signature campaign ‘Reinstate the Karachi 8’ was launched by the LabourStart, a global network of over 700 volunteers who devote their time and effort to support labour.

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Bangladesh Accord

Published in Dawn on June 11, 2019.

The textile industry the world over poses many hazards to workers, such as musculoskeletal disorders and exposure to chemicals, dust, fibres, noise, vibration, and dangerous machinery. In addition to mechanical and chemical hazards, fires pose the greatest risk, particularly in developing economies with substandard building structures. It is the state’s responsibility to ensure workplace safety through national safety regulations, along with inspection and compliance mechanisms. South Asian states, however, tend to abdicate this crucial responsibility — which may result in workers losing their lives and limbs.

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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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Dangerous Depths

Published in Dawn on August 17th 2018

While the country watched the induction of the newly elected parliamentarians and celebrated the 71st Independence Day, it was business as usual in the extractive sector in Pakistan, a business that claimed the lives of 15 coalminers in the dark alleys underground on Aug 13-14. The immediate cause, as reported, was methane gas explosion. Or, faulty blasting technique as asserted by the trade union federation.

Perhaps the cause or causes of the accident in the coalmine will never be known. Was it faulty ventilation and a flawed alarm system, inadequate illumination intensity, invisible hazard signage and the absence of an emergency and evacuation plan, or the lack of workers’ training, or a combination of all?

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Labour and Hope

Published in Dawn on August 3rd 2018

The miserable have no other medicine/ But only hope. — Shakespeare

New legislative bodies are about to be installed at the centre and in the provinces, and amid controversies and misgivings, the common citizens are heaving a sigh of relief that the democratic process continues. Meanwhile, civil society groups, professional associations and collective forums are engaging in closed-door consultations with their members on how to advocate policies that matter the most to them in a setup and that have gone from bad to worse.

Powerful bodies, like chambers of commerce and industries, the employers’ federations, would have their own projections of the future policy and institutional environment, but the trade union bodies — greatly shrunk in number and strength — have nothing but hope to hold on to in their struggles.

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Informal Economy

Published in Dawn on January 21 2018

THE 12th Five Year Plan (2018-23) — to be finalised soon — is based on a strategy that combines “inclusive growth with green development”. In recent years ‘inclusive growth’ — growth that benefits all segments of society — has replaced ‘poverty alleviation’ as a catchphrase in development planning. Everyone is talking about it, including the IMF, World Bank, ADB, ILO, national governments as well as those averse to the ‘growth’ paradigm. So let’s hope all players in the international and national arena mean it and are out to promote “equity, equality of opportunity, and protection in market and employment” as defined by the World Bank.

The time has come for Pakistan to address inequity and to tackle the informal economy, which is considered a barrier to inclusive growth as it excludes the majority of people from accessing opportunities of productive growth in the economic realm and deprives them of entitlements at work because of their informal status. In comparison, workers engaged in formal, registered, tax compliant businesses and units are legally covered for social protection.

The government cites its inability to bring thousands of small enterprises under the tax net, while the enterprises point to financial constraints as the main reason for remaining informal. However, both concede that formality is desirable for it benefits all stakeholders in the long run. Yet the goal remains elusive.

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