Two PSM workers protesting against sacking die, say labour leaders

Updated 05 Jun 2020

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The protest was being held by the Steel Mill workers in collaboration with several labour organisations and unions against ECC's decision approving the golden handshake scheme for PSM workers ahead of its privatisation. — AFP/File
The protest was being held by the Steel Mill workers in collaboration with several labour organisations and unions against ECC's decision approving the golden handshake scheme for PSM workers ahead of its privatisation. — AFP/File

KARACHI: Mohammad Yunus Baloch (50) and Sarfaraz (45), two workers of the Pakistan Steel Mills, reportedly collapsed and died while protesting to save their jobs outside Steel Town on Thursday.

The protest was being held by the Steel Mill workers in collaboration with several labour organisations and unions against the decision of the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) approving the golden handshake scheme for the PSM workers ahead of its privatisation.

Last month, an ECC meeting chaired by Finance Adviser Abdul Hafeez Sheikh came up with the ‘Human Resource Rationalisation Plan’ for the workforce of the mills costing around Rs18.74 billion to be paid as retirement and termination dues to over 9,000 employees there.

This was done in view of the total losses and liabilities of the mills, which are said to have gone beyond Rs500bn besides about $2.5bn in foreign exchange loss per year to the country because of import of steel that should have been produced at the PSM.

The workers had started gathering at Pakistan Market near Steel Town after Zuhr prayers for a sit-in. The plan included their marching up to the Malir Press Club to get their voices heard but they were stopped in their tracks much before they could do that, reportedly with the law enforcers not allowing them to even enter Steel Town.

Area SHO denies any death occurred during the protest

“Both Yunus and Sarfaraz’s names were on the termination list and they sat down outside Steel Town with the other protesters in the terrible heat. That was when both the workers, one after the other, complained of chest pains followed by difficulty in breathing,” said Mohammad Naveed of the Trade Union Alliance.

Nasir Mansoor of the National Trade Union Federation also said that a third worker, Ijaz Samoon (35), also fainted during the protest and was rushed to hospital in an ambulance. He is also said to have had a heart attack and his condition was said to be critical.

About the law enforcement agencies picking up peaceful protesters, Mansoor said he was surprised at the Sindh government’s attitude. “On one hand they tell us that they are against privatisation and standing by the workers and, on the other, they call the police and Rangers on us,” he said.

“We didn’t expect much sympathy for the poor workers from PM Khan, but the PPP government’s attitude today was like being stabbed in the back,” he added.

Police denial

Steel Town SHO Shakir Ali, however, denied the death of any PSM protester or employee due to heart attack during the protest against the government’s decision.

The officer also claimed that they had detained some protesters for a while who were later on released.

Raza Rabbani condemns ECC decision

Former Senate chairman and senior leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Mian Raza Rabbani on Thursday condemned the government decision to sack over 9,000 workers of the PSM and called the move against the set rules of the Constitution, adds Our Staff Reporter.

In a statement, he said the ECC was not the right forum to make such a decision.

“The ECC decision to sack 9,300 workers of the Pakistan Steel Mill is condemned in the strongest terms,” he said. “Under the Constitution, 1973, the ECC or the Federal Cabinet are not the appropriate forums for taking this decision. The Pakistan Steel Mill falls within Entry No 6 of the Federal Legislative List, Part II, Constitution, 1973. The Federal Legislative List, Part II, is governed by Art 154(1), Constitution, 1973, ie. CCI.”

He said the Council of Common Interests, Article 154(1) provides that the CCI shall formulate and regulate policies in relation to matters in Part II of the Federal Legislative List and shall exercise supervision and control over related institutions.

“Under the Constitution, 1973, the matter of the Steel Mill has to be taken up at the CCI; the matter has not been sent to the CCI. Therefore, any decision taken by another forum will be in violation of the Constitution,” added Mr Rabbani.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2020