From: Alastair Wilson <email@example.com>
The Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign has been initiated by the Punjab Labour Federation, which is one of the biggest trade union federations in Pakistan, after the murder of its president, Arif Shah, on 19th January 1995, at the hands of hired assassins. This criminal act was a reprisal by the employers, after a successful strike against privatisation, for a minimum wage and the abolition of contract and child labour. Because of his dedication and courage the workers had total trust and confidence in him. He responded by giving his life in their cause. He dedicated 27 years of his life to the cause of labour. We will not let his death to be in vain. The Punjab Labour Federation is commited to continue his work. The bosses can murder our members, they can never murder our determination to fight for our own liberation. As a result of the assassination of Arif Shah, leading trade union activists have established the 'Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign' by the Punjab Labour Federation, the United Labour Federation, the Progressive Workers' Alliance, the National Railway Workers Union and the National Union of Postal Employees, among others. People are forced to live under bad health conditions, lower education, insufficient clean water supply, bad electricity supply, broken roads, polluted enviroment, prevailing diseases. They are facing higher taxes, ever increasing unemployment, drug addiction is common among youth. Arif Shah's murder is not an isolated act. Iqbal Masih, a 12 year old trade unionist campaigning all over the world for the abolition of child and bonded labour in Pakistan was also assassinated. 6 million children are forced to work in Pakistan and there are 20 million bonded workers. Another trade unionist in the banking sector, Usman Ghani, from the staff union in the Muslim Commercial Bank Ltd., has been assassinated in Spetember for fighting for workers rights. These brutal murders show the difficulties facing trade unionists in Pakistan to defend their democratic rights. 1) Defence of our trade unions from the physical attacks of the employers. Defend our right to organise! 2) Stop the privatisation and plunder of state industries. 3) For a minimum wage for all. 4) The abolition of child labour. 5) The abolition of anti trade union laws. 6) The abolition of draconian fundamentalist laws against women. Equal rights for women.
Last April, the British press reported the murder of Iqbal Masih, 12 years old and trade unionist campaigning against child labour. The story he had been explaining to the world was that of millions of children in Pakistan. He had been slaved on the looms from the age of 4, shackled to the machines for 6 years, until he was rescued by social activists. He received 10 pence wages for 10 hours a day, and he has tp pay back to the bosses the loans taken by his family.
Bonded labour According to the UNICEF, over one million children work in the carpet industry (which generated over 250 million dollars in exports in 1992), another million are employed as domestics, over 300,000 as bonded labourers in brick kilns together with many more in soap factories, small garages, shops etc. To this must be added the many street sellers, ragpickers and beggars. Families are forced by extreme poverty to send out their children to work or worse. Bonded Labourers are forced to take loans from their bosses at high interest rates which in order to attempt to repay means they have to accept low wages. There is little chance of the debt being repaid. People cannot run away as there is no where to go and in any case the rest of a debtors family would then become liable for the debt. They are forced to sell their children into what is nothing short of slavery. Laws against child labour are ignored. The passing of the Employment of Children Act in 1991 and the Bonded Labour Abolition Act in 1992 was supposed to have prohibited child labour in hazardous occupations, abolished bonded labour and provided regulations on hours of work and conditions. However these laws can be avoided through vagueness of interpretation or through one of the many loopholes that exist. For example, children are allowed to work in prohibited industries (carpets, cement etc.) if they do so with a member of their family! . Reporters even discovered that government training centres had been converted into illegal workshops. In Tharparker whole villages have become enslaved as a result of this process of government involvement.
Carpet industry The carpet weaving industry employs children for over 90% of its workforce. Conditions are extremely hot with children working for 11 hours a day with little breaks. Health problems are rampant; wool fibres damage lungs and bone deformations occur as a result of the effects of the hard labour involved. One reporter visiting a carpet factory was confronted with children begging him to take them to hospital as "we all suffer from coughs". No wonder that he felt unable to take any photographs as he believed that no photo could adequately show the horror of these places. The lack of light in these sweatshops means that many children will also suffer damage to their eyesight. The degree of this can be guessed by looking at a survey in Iran which stated that at least 60% of the children employed in the carpet industry suffered from sight-related problems. The younger children who are not used to sitting for long periods of time will often have their feet tied with chains. Sexual and physical abuse is rife with beatings being the norm. Employers are quoted as saying that they choose factory locations according to "the availability of children". Newsline reported on one squatter town at the end of Karachi which had been turned into in effect a bonded slave labour camp of 30,000 people run by owners of Kladi workshops and underwritten by the giant carpet companies who can see the massive profits that can come from cheap labour. Many of the families had been crushed by debt and had sold their children as collateral to the local bosses. A large number were also illegal immigrants who had paid the bosses large sums to be helped across the borders and given forged papers. These workers are especially profitable with pay being very low perhaps half the market rate or less. One worker was quoted as saying: "He has not increased our wages over the last four years while the price we pay for our kerosene oil has doubled". Children are also harassed and beaten by the police who provide no protection.
Brick kiln industry Other industries that employ children are no better. The Brick Kiln industry where over two million families are bonded labourers have appalling conditions of heat and dirt with skin and lung diseases common . The heat will be over 100 degrees Fahrenheit with dust and dangerous gasses everywhere. The NWFP reported that children here suffered 50% more chronic illness than other children. Cuts and burns are to be expected. Some jobs are even worse. Children are employed to clean inside oil truck tankers. Up to 3 children at a time spend as much as a hour inside these hot and oily tankers. Since they are working in the dark injuries are common. As this work is classed as scavenging police harassment is expected. One child said of this work: " It's dark inside. I can't see anything at first. It's suffocating too. I fell once and broke my head. It's difficult work. If you are hurt and covered in oil, you can't escape, you can even die. That's why I decided to leave this work". Police bribery is routine with each child paying 5 rupees a day as 'bhatta'. Children who don't pay are taken away and beaten until they pay up. One child described this fate: "They (the police) took me, beat me up with a chithar (piece of thick leather) in the thana (police station) and kept me there for 19 days along with 12 other children. Our maalik (boss) paid a zamanat (bail) of 4000 rupees, only then could we get out". Other children work in garages as mechanics and welders. They are supposed to be trained but little actually occurs. Blindings from the sparks of the blow torches is only one of the hazards they face. One child worker who's eyesight is impaired says: " My eyes become red and hurt me terribly every morning. Yet I cannot stay away from work. There are plenty of others waiting in line if I don't show up". Another was told to soak his eyes with warm tea leaves or rose water to ease the pain. At the bottom of the heap are those children who hawk goods in the street. Their conditions are pitiable. Many turn to petty crime and prostitution to make ends meet and physical and sexual abuse is common. Rape and drug addiction is a part of what passes for their daily lives. 50,000 children aged 5 to 13 work in football manufacturing industry for 9 to 11 hours a day, sitting on bare floor and receiving just 50p. a day. They suffer finger damage due to the use of needles in thick leather.
Shahida Jabeen (Gen Sec PPP Women's Wing)
All correspondence and donations to:
Shahida Jabeen, Secretary,
Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign,
PO Box 6977, London N1 3JN.
All cheques payable to Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign.