Strike against wage cuts: Work on power project suspended for five days

Deadlock in talks between the protesting labourers and the Chinese construction company continued hampering work on the mega Dobair-Khwar Hydropower Project as both sides failed to reach a compromise over the issue of wages, The Express Tribune learnt late Monday evening.

Work on the Rs3.9 billion power project was suspended when the labourers went on strike on Thursday last against the downward revision of their wages which they believed was against the official rates.

It was reported that over 60 unskilled workers have been engaged in the construction work of the project’s tunnel at Pattan Tehsil of Kohistan district for the last over four months.

Earlier work on the project was suspended when torrential rains and flash floods caused heavy damages to the tunnel and killed three Chinese engineers and two other workers last year.

The Chinese engineers resumed work on the 132MW hydropower project in February this year.

Sources said that when the construction company started work on the project it had fixed a uniform rate of Rs200 a day for each labourer revising it downward from the previous wages of Rs530 for skilled workers, Rs440 for semi-skilled and Rs350 for unskilled workers.

“Can these labourers work with such low wages when the prices of commodities are skyrocketing? Unfortunately, the Chinese are reluctant in accepting the rates fixed by the Communication and Works Department last September, at Rs350 per day for unskilled labourers,” Zar Buland Khan, a ruling Pakistan People’s Party activist and former nazim of Jalkot Union Council told this correspondent over the phone.

He said that working conditions labourers enduring are also not favourable as the Chinese keep them under strict vigilance and did not allow to take breaks. He stressed on the need to revise the rates to Rs350 per day.

District Police Officer Muhammad Ilyas Khan confirmed that the talks have failed to yield any result and strike continues. He said that negotiations between the two parties remained inconclusive on Monday.

However, the Wapda representative, Project Director Arshad Khan, sought three more days from the protesters and the local administration for taking up the matter with senior management.

Meanwhile, the project director could not be approached for comments on the issue as in spite of repeated attempts, he did not attend his phone.

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