FAISALABAD: Several weaving factories in Sidhar have been closed for over a week now against alleged demands of extortion by activists of Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM), an entity representing powerloom workers.

A week ago, factory owners said they had submitted 25 applications mentioning names of alleged extortionists and the amount demanded, however, no action was taken by police.

An LQM office-bearer claimed only one owner had been asked to improve his factory’s efficiency and adopt safety measures. Instead, the owners ganged up against workers and went on a strike alleging LQM people were demanding extortion, he added.

“Police have sought two days to convince owners to resume operations. If they fail, our workers will go on a strike in all sectors of Faisalabad,” LQM Secretary General Aslam Mairaj said.

Talking to Dawn, Council of Loomowners Association Chairman Waheed Khaliq said Sidhar sector had more than 25,000 powerlooms employing more than 5,000 labourers. All labourers had been jobless for 10 days as factory owners were not ready to resume operations because of extortion allegedly being demanded by LQM activists.

He said before going on strike, Sidhar sector weaving factory owners had staged a demonstration and a sit-in at the District Council Chowk demanding action against suspected labourers. He also said district government officials held talks with loom owners and formed a two-member committee comprising Lyallpur Town Superintendent of Police (SP) Malik Owais and Saddar Assistant Commissioner Rafia Haider to look into the issue.

During a meeting with the committee, factory owners on oath named people allegedly demanding extortion. The owners had also submitted 25 applications mentioning names of extortionists and the amount they had sought.

Seeing no action against ‘extortionists’, the owners went on a strike indefinitely claiming the government had failed to protect them, Khalid added. He said parliamentarians from Faisalabad were also approached, but none took interest in the issue.

Miraj told Dawn a visit to weaving factories could highlight the conditions labourers were working in.

“We asked a factory owner in Sidhar to install an air cooler and exhaust fans to control suffocation in his unit,” he said, adding factory owners considered it a move against them and started levelling allegations of extortion.

“We have taken up the unjustified strike issue with the district government and police,” he said, adding SP Owais had promised factories would be opened after two days.

Mairaj confirmed factory owners had submitted applications against workers at the meeting presided over by SP Owais, however, he said they did not corroborate their claims. He said workers had been giving funds to the LQM to fight for their rights. He also claimed factory owners were intentionally taking on the workers by keeping them unemployed so they would refrain from raising voices in the future.

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2015

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