FAISALABAD: Sadiq Mehmood, a powerloom worker, was taking sips of tea sitting on a wooden bench in the Faizabad area while discussing with his fellow labourer the two weekly holidays announced by his employer.

“I will get a rickshaw to make up for the deficit in my earnings due to holidays on Sundays and Mondays. Like the workers, the factory owners are also facing financial constraints finding no other way but to go on for a two-day closure,” said visibly dejected Sadiq Mehmood.

The surge in electricity prices, decline in rate and demand of fabric and cotton have forced a number of the powerloom owners to sell their units and dozens of others to opt for two weekly holidays.

Faisalabad is known as the textile capital of Pakistan, having thousands of power looms in Sidhar, Dhandara, Samanabad, Faizabad, Dhudiwala, Ghulam Mohammad Abad, Jaranwala Road, Sargodha Road, Razaabad, Lakar Mandi and other areas.

The powerloom sector is informal but feeds countless families of its workers.

Shafaqat Ali Bhatti, a factory owner of Marzipura, says surging prices of electricity and political uncertainty have badly affected the crisis-stricken textile sector.

He says prices of fabric have declined manifold and now fresh stuff is available on cheaper rates, adding that the cotton fabric that was being sold at Rs45 per metre was now available against Rs33. The buyers are not releasing payments to the power loom owners due to the reduced prices and as a result, the powerlooms are unable to pay salaries to workers.

Cost of shuttle Russian looms ranges from Rs400,000 to Rs500,000, however, owing to the crisis the loom is available against Rs2,000 monthly rent.

Mr Bhatti says instead of earning we are facing colossal losses.

Dozens of powerloom owners of Faizabad have decided to close their units for two days — Sunday and Monday — to avoid financial losses owing to slump and decreasing prices of fabrics.

Mehmood says he will also face financial crunch because of two-day closure as a majority of the workers are paid per piece for work rather monthly salary.

Elimination of one working day will decrease the working hours of the work force landing countless workers in a difficult situation.

“We are facing only six-hour power outages daily. But it will not benefit us when factories will remain closed for two days.”

Talking to Dawn, Waheed Khaliq, chairman Council of Loom Owners, says the government has decreased prices of petroleum products but that does not benefit the power loom sector.

He says people at the helm of affairs are aware of the entire situation of the power loom sector but nothing is being done to ease their problems.

He says Sidhar, Dhandara and Jhang sectors have also started two holidays in a week like Faizabad. He says working capital of factory owners is decreasing rapidly owing to the current slump.

“We raised the issue a couple of months ago in a bid to get attention of the rulers towards the power loom sector that is on the verge of collapse but nobody bothered to pay heed to our pleas and now factory owners have started selling their power looms and a number of factories have already been closed.”

Mr Khaliq says many loom owners have gone bankrupt and they are unable to pay their electricity bills. Due to their poor financial condition, Faisalabad Electric Supply Company (Fesco) has disconnected their supply, he says, adding Fesco authorities,too, were not willing to facilitate factory owners by allowing them to pay bills in installments.

Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2014