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PAKISTAN: More than 26000 employees of Pakistan Telecommunication were denied wages increases as announced by the government

November 18, 2010

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-173-2010

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18 November 2010
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PAKISTAN: More than 26000 employees of Pakistan Telecommunication were denied of wages increased as announced by the government

ISSUES: Right to strike; labour rights; coercion, police violence; arbitrary arrest
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that gross violations of labour laws, retrenchment and coercive methods against the workers were witnessed in Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited after its 26 percent shares were sold to a foreign based company. In the recent days, following a strike at Pakistan Telecommunication (PTCL) over 530 employees have been terminated and suspended from their jobs and thirty-five union leaders have been charged under anti-terrorism laws. The victimising was started after the protests from workers for demanding increase in wages as according to the announcement of government to increase of 50 percent in basic wages. The PTCL was bound to add the 50 percent increase in basic wages as according to the agreement signed at the time of PTCL’s privatization in 2005 and in violation of the PTCL Re-Organization Act 1996 Clause (35) & (36).

The 35000 workers, out of total numbers of 61000, lost the job through the coercive methods by the management, who was privatised in 2005 when a UAE based company purchased the 26 percent of the shares of PTCL, during past four years. The management has stopped the annual bonuses for more than 2,000 employees and refused to pay wages to more than 500 others, according to the Pakistan Telecommunication Employees Union. The secretary general of the union was also terminated from the job.

The federal minister for labour promised before the workers in September that within three days their demands of increase in basic would be met but he was allegedly stopped not to intervene in the matters of company where a foreign company has investment.

CASE DETAILS:

On April 2006, the Government of Pakistan sold 26% shares and control of their largest telecommunication company Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) to Etisalat, UAE. Etisalat agreed that all the 61000 PTCL workers would enjoy the same wages as public employees. Their wages would be increased at the time of government notification and Etisalat would respect all labour laws.

PTCL management team stated that none of the workers would lose their jobs after privatisation and surplus workers would be sent to countries where Etisalat operates. Yet in four years, over 35000 workers have lost their jobs, 250 have been suspended and another 280 terminated. Moreover, thirty-five union leaders have been charged under anti-terrorism laws. All this for demanding a wage increase according to the agreements signed at the time of PTCL's privatisation in 2005 and in violation of the PTCL Re-Organization Act 1996 Clause (35) & (36).

After a record price hike in June 2010 and under immense working-class pressure, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government announced a 50 percent increase on 'basic' pay. But Etisalat did not implement the wage increase at PTCL. Although the PTCL revenue for 2009/2010 stood at Rupees 59.37 billion, this legal demand requires approximately rupees one billion per annum.

When all the four main PTCL unions united and demanded in writing that management must respect the agreement, their demand was ignored. So, the unions decided to organise a national strike for two hours each day on 2 August 2010 in order to press for the wage increase. All 26000 workers acted positively and thus the workers at PTCL escalated the action to a total strike on 16 August instant.

PTCL workers deserved 50 percent increase on their basic pay as of June 2010 under the law. Following a strike that was brutally suppressed by the government, PTCL management offered a 30 percent wage increase with another 20 percent increase linked to worker productivity by December 2010. Yet management’s arrogant attitude is “The productivity of a worker becomes zero when they are active in unions”.

The telecom sector was nearly paralysed because of the complete strike and thousands of telephone lines were out of order. But PTCL management refused to dialogue with the unions and discuss their demands. Instead, during the strike, PTCL advertising increased tenfold and it was no accident that PTCL’s mobile service blanketed their ads continuously over the private television channel. The PTCL website http://ptcl.com.pk/mediac.php?NID=132 reveals at least 139 print designs of products advertised in the media. Hence, the media least bothered to report on the strike and massive worker demonstrations.

On the 17th day of the strike i.e. 3 September 2010, the striking union leaders met Mr. Khurshid Shah, the Federal Minister of Labour to intervene and end the strike. The labour minister told them that within three days the main demand to increase a 50 percent wage would be met. At the strike camp, the union leaders happily announced that workers could go home, that the demands would be met soon.

However, PTCL management opted to spend rupees 350 million and bribed the police and other officials to proceed with a crackdown of the legitimate peaceful strike of low-paid employees. By the evening of 3 September, hundreds of policemen were mobilised to attack the strike camp. Mr. Faisal Memon, Superintendent of Police told that constables responsible for the subsequent beating of worker leaders make sure that the resulting injuries should be severe enough so none should be able to walk to jail.

Dozens of strikers were rounded up and brought to the police station. Over 50 were arrested, with three central leaders booked under anti-terrorist laws and 35 others booked under 7ATA (Anti Terrorist Act). Arrests continued for the next 24 hours as workers home were raided. Several workers were arrested at police check posts in different parts of the city. Yet, with the strike crushed, there was a little news of the brutal events by Pakistan’s “independent” media.

PTCL workers were forced to sign a statement disassociating them from the strike as a condition for receiving their wages. According to both national labour laws and practice, a referendum for recognising union collective bargaining should be held every two years. But, during the last 12 years, only three referendums have been held in PTCL: the first in 1998; the second in 2004, under General Musharaf’s dictatorship; and the third in 2010.

PTCL management has always interfered in the referendum process by using all its resources to oppose a positive outcome. Even the National Industrial Relation Commission, the body that conducts the referendum, is intimidated. Every year the workers have to go on strike in order to push management into accepting their demands. And every year, management uses a variety of repressive measures before finally agreeing to some demands. The only unique aspect of the process in 2010 is that management’s response was even more brutal. This was possible because of police complicity.

Since the September 2010 repression of the workers struggle, PTCL management has stopped the annual bonuses for more than 2,000 employees and refused to pay wages to more than 500 others. Mr. Hassan Muhammad Rana, Secretary General of Pakistan Telecom Employees Union, and several other leading union activists were unlawfully dismissed. Approximately another 250 employees have been terminated in clear violation of Pakistan Labour Laws. The National Industrial Relation Commission suspended the termination orders and declared these unfair labour practices, but management has not accepted these orders.

On 5 November 2010, unions of PTCL, leaders of the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) and the Labour Party Pakistan conducted a joint meeting and agreed the following:
to organise a Multi-Party PTCL Workers Solidarity Conference on 25 November 2010 at Lahore

  • to organise a Public Meeting of PTCL workers, trade unions and activists from political parties on 3 December 2010 at Lahore;
  • to demand the reinstatement of the 530 terminated and suspended PTCL workers;
  • to demand for the withdrawal of false cases against worker leaders;
    to demand for a 50 percent wage increase with payment of the agreed-upon bonuses and
  • to demand for the renationalisation of PTCL workers and to revive their confidence

     

    ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

    Following the crushing of a 2005 strike against the privatisation of PTCL, when the Musharraf military dictatorship ordered the army to occupy all the telephone exchanges across Pakistan, Etisalat won management control through the purchase of 26 percent shares. The deal between the dictatorship and Etisalat has been recently evaluated as “unclean” by the Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Pakistan. 

    Most of Etisalat’s lucrative promises at the time of privatisation -- to bring in new investment, technology, training, and with no job loss, in fact creating new jobs, better services and reduced rates for customers -- have not been realised. Etisalat also forced the government to accept payment in 10 instalments. Before privatisation the PTCL was one of the most profitable public sector institutions with an average annual profit of over rupees 30 billion.
    Now, Etisalat wants to purchase 25 percent more shares and take total control over the institution while breaking the back of the workers. In 2009/2010, the PTCL total revenue reached nearly rupees 60 billion yet management claims a net profit of only rupees 9 billion. It is hard to believe that profitability has declined. At the time of the privatisation total revenue was rupees 65 billion and net profit was nearly 30 billion. Further, in 2005, PTCL employed 61000 workers while today there are less than half.

    SUGGESTED ACTION:
    Please urge upon the authorities to stop violence against the striking workers and fulfil their basic demands and respect their labour rights and right to strike which are guaranteed by the constitution of Pakistan.

    The AHRC is writing a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Question of Labour Rights calling for immediate intervention into the case.

    To support this appeal, please click here: send_small.gif


    SAMPLE LETTER:

    Dear __________,

    PAKISTAN: Etisalat violates Pakistan Labour Laws by controlling 26% shares of PTCL

    Name of the victim:

    PTCL workers (Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited)

    Alleged perpetrator:
     
    1.Chairman & Chief Executive Officer,
    Etisalat International Pakistan L.L.C
    Executive Vice President Contracts & Administration
    Etisalat, UAE

    2.Mr. Naguibullah Malik
    Chairman PTCL Board
    Secretary IT & Telecom Division, Ministry of Information Technology
    Government of Pakistan,
    Islamabad

    I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding the police brutality towards the strikers of PTCL workers who deserved 50% increase on their basic pay as of June under the law.
    I am informed that on April 2006, the Government of Pakistan sold 26% shares and control of their largest telecommunication company Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) to Etisalat, UAE. PTCL management team stated that none of the workers would lose their jobs after privatisation and surplus workers would be sent to countries where Etisalat operates.

    I am further informed that Etisalat agreed to increased wages to all the 61000 PTCL workers at the time of government notification to enjoy the same wages as public employees and respect all labour laws. Yet in four years, over 35000 workers have lost their jobs, 250 have been suspended and another 280 terminated. Moreover, thirty-five union leaders have been charged under anti-terrorism laws. All this for demanding a wage increase according to the agreements signed at the time of PTCL’s privatisation in 2005 and in violation of the PTCL

    Re-Organization Act 1996 Clause (35) & (36).
    I am informed that after a record price hike in June 2010 and under immense working-class pressure, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government announced a 50 percent increase on 'basic' pay. But Etisalat did not implement the wage increase at PTCL. Although the PTCL revenue for 2009/2010 stood at Rupees 59.37 billion, this legal demand requires approximately rupees one billion per annum.

    I am informed that PTCL management ignored when all the four main PTCL unions united and demanded in writing that management must respect the agreement. So, the unions decided to organise a national strike for two hours each day on 2 August 2010 in order to press for the wage increase. All 26000 workers acted positively and thus the workers at PTCL escalated the action to a total strike on 16 August instant.

    I am informed that the telecom sector was nearly paralysed because of the complete strike and thousands of telephone lines were out of order. But PTCL management refused to dialogue with the unions and discuss their demands. Instead, during the strike, PTCL advertising increased tenfold and it was no accident that PTCL’s mobile service blanketed their ads continuously over the private television channel. The PTCL website http://ptcl.com.pk/mediac.php?NID=132 reveals at least 139 print designs of products advertised in the media. Hence, the media least bothered to report on the strike and massive worker demonstrations.

    I am informed that on the 17th day of the strike i.e. 3 September 2010, the striking union leaders met Mr. Khurshid Shah, the Federal Minister of Labour to intervene and end the strike. The labour minister told them that within three days the main demand to increase a 50 percent wage would be met. At the strike camp, the union leaders happily announced that workers could go home, that the demands would be met soon.

    However, PTCL management opted to spend rupees 350 million and bribed the police and other officials to proceed with a crackdown of the legitimate peaceful strike of low-paid employees. By the evening of 3 September, hundreds of policemen were mobilised to attack the strike camp. Mr. Faisal Memon, Superintendent of Police told that constables responsible for the subsequent beating of worker leaders make sure that the resulting injuries should be severe enough so none should be able to walk to jail.

    I am informed that dozens of strikers were rounded up and brought to the police station. Over 50 were arrested, with three central leaders booked under anti-terrorist laws and 35 others booked under 7ATA (Anti Terrorist Act). Arrests continued for the next 24 hours as workers home were raided. Several workers were arrested at police check posts in different parts of the city. Yet, with the strike crushed, there was a little news of the brutal events by Pakistan’s “independent” media.

    I am informed that PTCL workers were forced to sign a statement disassociating them from the strike as a condition for receiving their wages. According to both national labour laws and practice, a referendum for recognising union collective bargaining should be held every two years. But, during the last 12 years, only three referendums have been held in PTCL: the first in 1998; the second in 2004, under General Musharaf’s dictatorship; and the third in 2010.
    I am informed that PTCL management has always interfered in the referendum process by using all its resources to oppose a positive outcome. Even the National Industrial Relation Commission, the body that conducts the referendum, is intimidated. Every year the workers have to go on strike in order to push management into accepting their demands. And every year, management uses a variety of repressive measures before finally agreeing to some demands. The only unique aspect of the process in 2010 is that management’s response was even more brutal and this was possible because of police complicity.

    I am informed that PTCL management has stopped the annual bonuses for more than 2,000 employees and refused to pay wages to more than 500 others after the September 2010 repression of the workers struggle. Mr. Hassan Muhammad Rana, Secretary General of Pakistan Telecom Employees Union, and several other leading union activists were unlawfully dismissed. Approximately another 250 employees have been terminated in clear violation of Pakistan Labour Laws. The National Industrial Relation Commission suspended the termination orders and declared these unfair labour practices, but management has not accepted these orders.

    I am further informed that unions of PTCL, leaders of the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) and the Labour Party Pakistan conducted a joint meeting on 5 November 2010 and agreed the following:

  • to organise a Multi-Party PTCL Workers Solidarity Conference on 25 November 2010 at Lahore;

  • to organise a Public Meeting of PTCL workers, trade unions and activists from political parties on 3 December 2010 at Lahore;
    to demand the reinstatement of the 530 terminated and suspended PTCL workers;

  • to demand for the withdrawal of false cases against worker leaders;
    to demand for a 50 percent wage increase with payment of the agreed-upon bonuses and

  • to demand for the renationalisation of PTCL workers and to revive their confidence

    Yours sincerely,

  • ----------------
    PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

    1. Mr. Asif Ali Zardari
    President of Pakistan
    President's Secretariat
    Islamabad
    PAKISTAN
    Tel: +92 51 9204801/9214171
    Fax +92 51 9207458
    Email: publicmail@president.gov.pk

    2. Mr. Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani
    Prime Minister of Pakistan
    Prime Minister House
    Islamabad
    PAKISTAN
    Fax: + 92 51 9221596
    E-mail: secretary@cabinet.gov.pk , pspm@pmsectt.gov.pk

    3. Mr. A. Rehman Malik
    Federal Minister for Interior
    Government of Pakistan,
    R block, Pak Secretariat
    Islamabad
    PAKISTAN
    Tel: +92 51 9212026 +92 51 9212026 +92 51 9212026 +92 51 9212026 +92 51 9212026
    Fax: +92 51 9202624
    Email: ministry.interior@gmail.com , interior.complaintcell@gmail.com ,

    4. Mr. Syed Mumtaz Alam Gillani
    Federal Minister for Human Rights
    Ministry of Human Rights
    Old US AID Building
    Ata Turk Avenue
    G-5, Islamabad
    PAKISTAN
    Fax: +92 51 9204108
    Email: sarfaraz_yousuf@yahoo.com

    5. Dr. Faqir hussain
    Registrar
    Supreme Court of Pakistan
    Constitution Avenue, Islamabad
    PAKISTAN
    Fax: + 92 51 9213452
    E-mail: mail@supremecourt.gov.pk

    6. Mr. Abdulrahim Abdulla Abdulrahim Al Nooryani
    Chairman & Chief Executive Officer,
    Etisalat International Pakistan L.L.C
    Executive Vice President Contracts & Administration
    Etisalat, UAE
    nooryani@emirates.net.ae
     
    Thank you.

    Urgent Appeals Programme
    Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

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    Document Type :
    Urgent Appeal Case
    Document ID :
    AHRC-UAC-173-2010
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    Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

    A need for dialogue

    Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

    Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

    Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

    There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

    In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

    Changing society

    In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

    Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

    Practical action

    The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

    At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

    "The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

    Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.