Speakers at the Brick Kiln Workers’ Labour Convention on Friday urged the brick kiln workers across the Punjab and Pakistan to unite to change their social condition. The speakers also demanded the implementation of the Rs665.75 per 1,000 bricks wage rate determined by the Punjab government and the need to give brick kiln workers social security cards. The convention was arranged by the Pakistan Bhatta Mazdoor Union (PBMU) and Labour Education Federation at Bakhtiar Labour Hall. It was attended by over 250 brick kiln workers from various parts of Punjab. Ashraf Doggar, a brick kiln worker from Kot Radha Krishan, said, “We have this great opportunity to speak to each other… We must remind ourselves that our oppression will not end until we are united in our brick kilns the same way we are united here.”
“I work at a brick kiln. I know the conditions. If one day, my child is wearing shoes, he does not have clothes. We eat one meal a day,” he said. PBMU Gujrat general secretary Haroon said he had been working politically for the uplift of the brick kiln workers since the age of nine. “We have since then forced the Labour Department to conduct a survey of brick kiln workers in the province,” he said. “On the ground, there are still areas in the province where brick kiln workers are being paid Rs230 per 1,000 bricks,” he said. “In Mandi Bahuaddin, brick kiln owners pay before the rate despite the presence of six unions.” He said the lack of education was the biggest weakness the brick kiln workers had. “I had to leave school after second grade… I urge my fellow workers to let their children complete their schooling.”
“I want to see our children address us from this forum after completing college and universities,” he said. Haroon from Jalalpur said brick kiln workers should not compromise their unity for Rs20 in ration from their brick kiln owner or a few kind words from them. Rehmat Ali Shakir from Pattoki said brick kiln owners had vehemently opposed the notification of the increase in wage to brick kiln workers. “They surrounded the office of the Labour secretary but he refused to withdraw the notification due to our pressure.” “We held a protest rally in Pattoki, we held a protest rally in Lahore and we continue to do so,” he said. He said he had written a letter to the Labour Department on the lack of implementation of the minimum wage.
“It was important that each brick kiln worker returned to their kiln today and asked the owner to pay you Rs665.75 per 1,000 bricks,” he said. Maqsooda Bibi said that she was sad the women in the gathering were afraid to raise their voice at their kiln. “Do you not want to win your rights…do you not want to win the rights of your children?” she said. She said brick kiln workers should be considered skilled labourers. She also said there were no latrines in brick kilns. PBMU member from Toba Tek Singh, Tariq Mansoor, said brick kiln owners had continued their tactic of registering false cases against workers. He said they had tried to fight them by petitioning the Supreme Court successfully to take up suo motu notices in Toba Tek Singh, Faisalabad, Lahore and Kasur. He said there were 300,000 brick kiln workers working in 15,000 brick kilns across the province.