Dock workers take out rally to highlight issues with Chinese firm

Updated January 11, 2019

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‘PTI leaders, when in opposition, helped us get renewed our contracts, but now they are looking the other way’ — File
‘PTI leaders, when in opposition, helped us get renewed our contracts, but now they are looking the other way’ — File

KARACHI: Some 1,750 dock workers of the Port Qasim Authority on Thursday took out a peaceful rally from Regal Chowk to the Karachi Press Club to highlight their issues with their employers for which they have been protesting for the last 108 days.

Social workers, human rights activists and trade unionists also joined in the rally to show their solidarity with the workers’ cause.

Abdul Wahid, a dock worker, said that they did loading and unloading work at all the port berths but the problem occurred at berths three and four, which are coal terminals and whose management has been taken over by a Chinese company, which was not paying them for their work. “We have not been paid for eight months now by them. When they were new, we also in good faith worked for them for free because we wanted to be nice to our Chinese brothers. Our countries have maintained very good relations over the years after all,” he said.

‘PTI leaders, when in opposition, helped us get renewed our contracts, but now they are looking the other way’

“We had thought that they were just going through teething problems and that they would pay us sooner or later. But after it became clear to us that they had no intention of paying us our wages, we demanded it,” said Fareed Khan, another dock worker. “That’s when they also started firing us.”

Mukhtar Khan, who was also protesting at the rally, explained when asked how their families were coping with the situation: “We are earning from our work at the other berths such as numbers one and two. But times are hard as that money is not enough after all to make two ends meet,” he said.

Mohammad Akbar said that there were many of them and all did not find work every day. “There are over 1,700 workers and each day they contract different men. For example on day one there will be one to hundred of us who will be taken on for the work. Then on day two 101st to 200th worker will be called to work. It is like a rotation system of work. So everyone doesn’t earn wages daily. We depend then on our monthly salaries, which we have not got since June 2018,” he said.

About their income before the crisis, Abdul Ghaffar, another labourer, said that usually a common worker or loader would get Rs23,000 and a crane operator Rs43,000 a month. “Daily wages were like a bonus income and fluctuated between Rs1,000, 1,500 and 2,000,” he said.

Hussain Badshah, the secretary general of the Workers Union of Port Qasim, told Dawn that they were surprised to learn of the intentions of the Chinese. “But if we raise our voice to point out the injustice, they tell us to go home.”

“Basically,” he said, “the Chinese need to be educated about Pakistan’s labour laws so that they take our charter of demands seriously. We have been working at the dockyard since 1981, we deserve some respect.”

Badshah also said that they had had issues in the past too like in 2016 when their two-year contract had expired and politicians, including current Governor of Sindh Imran Ismail and Federal Minister of Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi, were by their side making speeches in their favour as the Muslim League-N was in power then. “It was thanks to them that our contracts were renewed then. But now when they are in a position to do something for us and direct the Chinese to treat us right, they are looking the other way,” he said.

“The Chinese say they will bring their own labour from China for the work here. Then where are we to go?”

Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2019