KARACHI: The management at Pakistan’s leading brand Khaadi has had two meetings with representatives of trade unions in the past two days regarding a draft related to rights, minimum wage and social security of the workers. According to secretary general of the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) Nasir Mansoor, the terms and conditions of the draft are being finalised.

He said that the brand “came forward with the understanding that there were problems which needed to be addressed, which is a good sign”.

The meeting between Khaadi representatives and trade union members also touched upon issues related to “safety, security and health of workers and old age benefits”, Mansoor added.

Khaadi representative Imran Shiwani was approached for comment on the meeting, but he switched off his phone soon after agreeing to make a comment. Khaadi’s deputy general manager for administration Irfan Dalia said that “as a brand we don’t encourage unfair labour practices”. However, when he was contacted to speak about the recently held meeting, he was unavailable for comment.

The meeting comes after social media posts by activists and bloggers pointed out the lack of coverage in the national media about protests by Khaadi employees since May 22.

The issue itself came to the fore after a number of workers belonging to the leading apparel brand took to the streets in Karachi, Lahore and Multan to protest ill treatment meted out to their colleagues in Karachi. According to a union representative, Usman Ali, 32 workers had filed a form pertaining to unionisation at the National Industrial Relation Commission (NIRC), Karachi bench, which acts as a labour court. The reason the workers had approached the court was to ensure employment security after they apply to form a union.

According to experts, a registration order has to be acquired from the NIRC which also ensures job security for the workers in case the employer decides to sack them.

On May 18, the NIRC Karachi bench issued a stay order asking the administration not to harass workers or terminate their employment in case they unionise. According to a copy of the order by NIRC issued on May 18, the company responded in an earlier hearing on April 20, 2017 stating that they had no intention to remove or dismiss anyone illegally and asked for the case to be disposed of. The case was disposed of on May 18. Three days later, however, Usman adds that “the same 32 workers were stopped at the gate of the manufacturing unit without any written statement or legal order. We ended up calling a sit-in outside the unit from morning till evening every day since.”

Looking at the ensuing statement, Khaadi issued a statement stating that the allegations against the brand were part of a conspiracy. An excerpt from the statement goes: “Khaadi has viewed with concern the discussion on social media in recent days emanating from certain false news that have been spread and which seek to damage our reputation. Initially, our viewpoint was not to respond to what is nothing but malicious and libelous content, but we now feel we owe it to our patrons to clarify the matter. We therefore categorically confirm that Khaadi has NOT terminated 32 of its employees.”

It was also stated by the brand: “We appeal to all to please do not share or spread news that is pure hearsay, or base your comments on speculative news, no matter shared by who, without fully knowing the facts yourself. We request this not only in the case of Khaadi, but as a general principle of social media engagement, as false rumours tend to escalate and can be quite damaging for others, whether it be brands or innocent people.”

However, NTUF’s Nasir Mansoor adds that the brand is now using the name of a third-party contractor, Texmark, which is said to be dealing with the hiring and sacking of employees working at Khaadi. “I must add here that 90 per cent of our garment industry deals with their workers in a similar manner. There are no set rules, no benefits and a minimum wage of Rs13,000 or even less is given to the workers,” he said.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2017



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