Civil society, labour bodies vow to resist privatisation, sacking of PSM workers

Published December 3, 2020
Raza Rabbani speaks at the press club on Wednesday and (right) workers protest outside the KPC.—Online/White Star
Raza Rabbani speaks at the press club on Wednesday and (right) workers protest outside the KPC.—Online/White Star

KARACHI: Seasoned politician Raza Rabbani along with labour leaders and members of civil society on Wednesday condemned the issuance of retrenchment letters to over 4,500 workers of the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) and demanded that the federal government withdraw all the removal orders and shelve its privatisation plan of state institutions.

Speaking at a press conference here at the Karachi Press Club, Senator Rabbani also termed the PSM workers’ firing an unconstitutional and illegal act.

“All workers bodies and progressive elements in political parties, civil society and academia will resist this anti-workers decision at all forums,” he said.

“Federal institutions such as Pakistan Steel are included in the Federal Legislative List Part-II of the Constitution and the Council of Common Interests (CII) is the only constitutional body to decide about privatisation of those departments in the list,” he said, adding that the federal cabinet had no power to decide about privatisation of Pakistan Steel.

“This is an anti-workers’ government, which has signed an agreement with the IMF and other international donors, to privatise all the public institutions and remove employees from these institutions. There is a big list of institutions to be privatised,” he added.

“There is a law in Sindh, which states that workers cannot be removed from any organisation during the Covid-19 pandemic and it is illegal to remove thousands of workers from Steel Mills which is located in Sindh.

Raza Rabbani says it is illegal to sack over 4,500 workers during Covid-19 pandemic; workers hold protest demo

“The Steel Mills needed to be made profitable and be operational long ago, but the present government wanted to grab the 90,000 acres of land which is attached with the mills. This is land of government of Sindh, which was given to set up Steel Mills and if its purpose is changed, the provincial government can get back the land under Acquisition Act,” he said.

He also alleged that by privatising the PSM, the government, in fact, provided benefits to several private companies. “These same companies were also involved in a previous decision of Steel Mills privatisation in 2005 and Supreme Court had rejected the decision saying that these companies have interest in it,” he added.

Action committee against privatisation next week

Speaking on the occasion, secretary of National Labour Council (NLC) and executive director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) Karamat Ali said that the entire leadership of trade unions in Pakistan had announced their support for PSM workers. “A Mazdoor Action Committee against privatisation is being formed at the national level by next week,” he added.

“This united platform of trade unions would launch a movement against privatisation at all public sector organisations including Pakistan Steel Mills, PIA, Wapda, Railways, etc,” he said.

Mohammad Yasin Jamro of Insaf Labour Union, CBA, said that all trade unions of PSM had joined hands irrespective of their political affiliation. He said that under the law, the workers-elected CBA had to be consulted before any decision of privatisation, but in this case the CBA was not taken into confidence, which is illegal.

Mirza Maqsood Ahmed of Steel Mills Officers Association, Shamshad Ahmed of Peoples Workers Union, Mahnaz Rahman of Aurat Foundation and others also spoke.

Workers’ protest outside KPC

“The government wanted to see Steel Mills give 65 per cent profits in 2015. And we worked very hard day and night to achieve more than the said target. It was our hard work that enabled it to make profits up to 67pc. Still, they want to get rid of it,” said Naveed Afzal, a recently sacked PSM employee protesting outside the press club.

“And even before that in 2012, the PPP government initiated the signing of an MoU with Russia to help revive the Steel Mills. After all, it used to be run by Russians earlier. But then there was the Nawaz Sharif government which was just not interested in reviving it. Ishaq Dar, the then finance minister, went off to Russia to say that they are not interested in reviving the Steel Mills, and that they’d rather sell it to them than sign an MoU for collaborations,” he said.

“It was being said that there is a huge gas bill that the Steel Mills has to pay but cannot, so it is better to just sell it. But the gas bill was around Rs17 billion. At the same time there was K-Electric that had a gas bill worth Rs58bn and yet Steel Mills was being seen as a burden,” he added.

Akbar Memon, another former PSM worker, said that they worked extra hard without complaining in the hope of seeing the revival of PSM but to no avail.

These were just some of the sentiments expressed by the protesting PSM workers during a demonstration staged by them in collaboration with the Home-Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) outside the KPC on Wednesday.

Cabinet members ‘patronising mafia’

Other worker leaders at the protest said that the government that lacked public support was selling off precious assets of the nation. They said this regime had already bent down before the steel import mafia and a so-called Steel Mill consortium that has come forward and is said to be interested in purchasing the PSM for peanuts. It has got patronage of some powerful ministers and advisers of the federal cabinet, who have their eye on the PSM.

Zehra Khan, HBWWF’s general secretary, said the sacking of over 4,500 PSM employees was in violation of a Sindh government law under which no employee could be sacked or his or her salary and dues be stopped during the coronavirus pandemic.

Karamat Ali of PILER said: “Last year, in March, the then chairman of PSM had written a letter about some influential persons of the government and bureaucracy putting hurdles in the way of reviving the PSM. However, Prime Minister’s Adviser Razzaq Dawood immediately sacked that chairman.”

Nasir Mansoor of the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) said: “Even today, slabs and other products and scrap valuing more than Rs16bn are present in the PSM and these assets are being stolen in broad daylight,” he said.

The protesters demanded restoration of all sacked workers of PSM and to make it functional. For this the government should provide a one-time grant and take steps to run the mills in consultation with experts and stakeholders. They should also seriously consider the offer from the Russian government to revive the PSM.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2020

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