Labour bodies slam govt decision to sack over 4,500 PSM workers

Published November 29, 2020
A view of the deserted Pakistan Steel Mills. — File photo
A view of the deserted Pakistan Steel Mills. — File photo

KARACHI: Labour activists and organisations on Saturday aired their disappointment with the government and fears for the poor workers and labour force in the country a day after the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) unceremoniously laid off as many as 4,544 of its employees.

“All workmen in pay groups II, III, IV and JOs including (i) teachers/lecturers, non-teaching staff of schools and colleges (ii) drivers (iii) firemen (iv) fire tender operators (v) health workers (vi) security guards. watchmen (vii) malis/head malis (viii) paramedical staff (ix) cooks/bearers/waiters/head cooks (x) office attendants (xi) workmen of finance dte. (all departments), A&P Deptt., are being retrenched. ...

PSM employees block main National Highway to protest retrenchment

“Since you fall in the above category of employees to be retrenched, in exercise of power under Rule 4.1 (b) (iii) of the Pakistan Steel Officers Service Rules and Regulations, your employment is hereby terminated by way of retrenchment with immediate effect. ...” read the letter of retrenchment to the employees fired by the once productive and profitable PSM.

‘Heartless step’

Reacting to the heartless step taken by the federal government in taking away livelihoods of so many households, the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research’ s executive director Karamat Ali said that this was only the beginning of the end for PSM.

“Those who were not sacked on Friday are also going to lose their jobs eventually because it looks like the government wants to close the mills entirely. Had they been serious about reviving it, they would not have done this,” he said.

“They will probably convert PSM to something else. We already know of their ideas of building modern cities on the twin islands of Buddu and Bundal,” he said, adding that if the intention was of starting some other venture on PSM land, then it would be an illegal step.

“You see, the agreement for this land given by the Sindh government is specifically for PSM. If the PSM closes down, the land should be returned to Sindh government,” he explained.

“Just like PSM, the government is also not interested in doing anything for national carrier Pakistan International Airlines, where some 7,000 employees are facing unemployment as the airline loses credibility all over the world.

“It is being said that there is a racket of people being employed by the workers’ unions that is ruining business and making losses. You tell me, what union appoints people? Workers’ unions do not hire,” he pointed out.

“Even the industrial sector had offered to help revive PSM but the government didn’t consider the option. And so this is the situation. And what’s worse is that this process of retrenchment will also be followed by other government institutions because everyone and everything is a burden for them,” he predicted.

“It’s such decisions by the government, which are making so many workers insecure in Pakistan. Here 85 per cent workers are doing informal work, and their numbers are increasing. These people are not even getting minimum wages. Here 83pc households are running on less than two dollars a day income. It isn’t even half the amount of the Rs17,500 minimum wage set by the government. These families are starving.

“In these circumstances and in light of such policies, it is extremely important that social security should include unemployment benefits and old-age benefits. This should be a priority. Otherwise, there will be a huge rise in crime in this country. You see those kids who run to your car at traffic signals to wipe clean windscreens? Well, if people start getting unemployed and are not paid enough to feed their families, you’ll find the same kids at signals carrying TT pistols for you to pay up or else,” said Mr Ali.

“This unemployment mess should end. And making people jobless in these times of the coronavirus pandemic is just not on. Earlier, the Sindh government had reassured that people will still be paid their salaries despite the lockdown, which didn’t happen, too,” he said.

‘Centre eyeing prime land’

Deputy general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation Pakistan (NTUF) Nasir Mansoor also said that he felt that the federal government had an eye on PSM’s prime land. “It’s 19,000 acres of prime land, and it is beachside property. There is a long conveyor belt there in place that goes up to Karachi port. Not just this, PSM also has an oxygen plant that supplies and sells oxygen to hospitals. So there is so much more there than just expensive land,” he pointed out.

“Even earlier governments had their eye on all this,” he said, adding: “But, PSM should be revived. There is a need for steel in this country where construction is on the rise. But there is the imports lobby here, too, which wants to see PSM closed. The same is the case with ship-breaking industry. It is also making losses.”

Reacting strongly to the firing of PSM employees, Mr Mansoor said that even though it was being said that the mills needed to shed its burden of employees as it is going into heavy losses, there was still hiring happening there.

“When I look back at what this government was, and what it has become, I am amazed. This government used to say that privatisation was bad for the country, it was against privatisation. But now they are firing people left, right and centre without even taking on board any stakeholders in making these extreme decisions so that they can sell off government institutions or help the imports lobby,” he said.

Employees’ sit-in on National Highway

Hundreds of sacked employees of PSM on Saturday blocked main National Highway for hours in protest of their abrupt retrenchment through letters sent to their homes.

The employees blocked the highway at the Steel Town roundabout. They were also joined by local workers of the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

The protesters termed the retrenchment their “economic murder” and demanded immediate withdrawal of the orders. They warned of an extreme action if the orders were not withdrawn till Monday.

A heavy contingent of police and Rangers arrived at the scene and asked the protesters to vacate the highway. But the protesters refused to do so. Traffic remained suspended on the highway linking the city with the airport for hours. Later, they ended their sit-in in the evening.

The protesters said that an employee, identified as Habibullah, suffered a heart attack and died after receiving the termination letter.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2020

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