KARACHI: The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER) has condemned the brutal treatment meted out to the six power loom workers who are being tried by the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) after being falsely booked under extortion charges in Ittehad Town, Karachi.
In a statement issued here on Monday, PILER demanded immediate release of the workers booked in Karachi and called for tough action against the police officials and the factory owners who were involved in levelling false charges against workers and subjecting them to the unwarranted trauma. PILER also called for action against all those power-looms and towel manufacturing industries at Ittehad Town that are neither registered under the Factories Act, nor extend a formal employment letter, minimum wages or social security benefits to the employed workers.
The workers were arrested from the industrial zone of Ittehad Town last week in a raid following a consistent protest for the last one-and-a-half months demanding increase in wages and a weekly day off. Six workers who led the formation of a union at the industrial unit were picked by the police – that worked in connivance with the factory owners – and booked under extortion charges. These workers were produced in ATC in Karachi on Saturday in a distraught condition. They were brutally tortured by the police that tried hard to force them declaring before media that they were involved in extortion activities in the industrial area. The workers, however, refused to give in. The ATC judge himself took note of the severe torture on workers and warned the investigation officer against any third degree tactics, ordering him to extend proper medical care to the traumatised workers.
Demanding immediate withdrawal of false charges against the Ittehad Town workers, PILER observed that extending anti-terrorism charges and totally unjustified punishment against workers is the latest tactic of the state that ally with the powerful industrial elite to crush workers who demand their due rights. Last year, six labour leaders representing the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM) were sentenced to lifetime imprisonment for being involved in holding a strike for a 17 percent raise in labour wages in Faisalabad. The workers’ families are in a state of utter distress in the absence of the prime bread earners.
Apart from the suffering of the family, this is seriously demoralising for workers who are merely demanding their constitutional and legal rights including those related to unionisation, minimum wages, and social security. These provisions are enshrined in the constitution and the state has a duty to ensure access to these rights and entitlements. PILER stressed that there is a very strong case for the restoration of labour inspection in the Province of Sindh and in other parts of the country (it is banned in Sindh and Punjab) which would have at least ensured that the state is monitoring organisations that are not complying with basic labour laws. Instead that state itself has gone on to supervise anti-labour practices, removing all safeguards that were constitutionally provided to protect workers.